WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia — O Canada!
They will sing it loud and proud, thanks to the unlikely upset pulled by Alexandre Bilodeau, who won the men’s moguls Sunday night to become the first Canadian to win Olympic gold inside the country’s borders.
Showing all the speed and daring a skier needs to make some history, Bilodeau blazed through the slushy moguls, tore down the course in 23.17 seconds and posted a score of 26.75. That was .17 points better than defending champion Dale Begg-Smith, a Vancouver native who now competes for Australia.
Bryon Wilson of the United States finished third. When the final skier, Guilbaut Colas of France, had his sixth-place score flashed on the board, the Canadian crowd went crazy.
“I don’t think I really realize it,” Bilodeau said. “It’s too good to be true.”
It has been nearly 34 years since the cauldron was first lit for the Summer Games in Montreal, and 22 since the last Canadian games in Calgary.
And now, the land of the Maple Leaf has its moment.
It’s a moment that will be played and replayed for the next two weeks and beyond — one to be celebrated again come Monday, when Bilodeau receives that Olympic gold in a ceremony down in Vancouver and that song — yes, ‘O Canada,’ will be piped into the medals plaza for everyone to hear.
The victory came about 24 hours later than many people thought it might — on the very same moguls course where favorite Jenn Heil, a Canadian, settled for silver Saturday night. That disappointment is history, and suddenly, Canada looks like the threat it hoped it would be at these Olympics.
The country started a program called “Own the Podium,” and poured $110 million into it, with the goal of winning the medal count here at the Vancouver Games. Canada’s first gold brings the medal count up to three — still only half of what the leader, the United States, has won. But there’s a lot of time left.
On a night made for raucous celebration, there was a poignant scene, as well — the one of Bilodeau’s brother, Frederic, who suffers from cerebral palsy, cheering in a wheelchair near the bottom of the course behind the fence.
The same fence Bilodeau crashed into at the bottom, after he sped through the final bumps to finish a run that teetered precariously between control and chaos. He stayed up when it counted, though, and in the end, it was his risk-taking that made a difference.
He and Wilson were the only two men in the finals who dared try a back flip with two twists on the top jump. Begg-Smith has been dominating for years with less-difficult jumps; though he executed them cleanly, he lost because he was more than a half-second slower.
As usual, Begg-Smith kept a mysterious air about him afterward.
His Aussie handlers called the media in early so their star could answer questions quickly, and alone, on the podium. But Begg-Smith stood in the back corner, fiddling with his cell phone, waiting for members of the Aussie media — the only ones he’ll talk to — to get to the tent.
An odd scene for the man who disowned his home country and moved to Australia because it fit in better with his business schedule. He reportedly owns an internet company and is a multimillionaire, which allows him to ski on the side.