Bilodeau lands Canada’s first gold

WEST VANCOUVER – Reluctant Canadian Dale Begg-Smith finally faced the press Sunday night at Cypress Mountain, but the Aussie shared the spotlight with a much happier Canadian in Alexandre Bilodeau following the men’s freestyle moguls.

WEST VANCOUVER – Reluctant Canadian Dale Begg-Smith finally faced the press Sunday night at Cypress Mountain, but the Aussie shared the spotlight with a much happier Canadian in Alexandre Bilodeau following the men’s freestyle moguls.

Bilodeau, a likeable 23-year-old Montrealer, surprised a crowd of 8,269 fans with Canada’s first gold medal on Olympic home soil. Begg-Smith, a somewhat mysterious 25-year-old from Melbourne who struck silver, and came in as the defending Olympic champion, had snubbed local media upon arrival in Vancouver.

While flashing his usual business-like approach, the former West Vancouverite showed no emotion when he received flowers in the post-race ceremony. Both Bilodeau and bronze-medalist Byron Wilson of the U.S. flashed Duracell smiles as they collected their bouquets.

Begg-Smith, sporting a green Australian cap, was gracious as he sipped on water and answered media questions, smiling at one point in a conversation with Bilodeau.

“I skied the way I wanted to ski and that’s all I can control,” said Begg-Smith. “There were a lot of good runs today and obviously I’m happy with how I did…I think it was great Canada won a gold,” he said. “The fans were happy. We’re here to put on a good show.”

Begg-Smith praised the fans for cheering on every country, a gesture he said pumps up the athlete and pushes them to “go faster, bigger.”

Bilodeau, who said he gains inspiration from his older brother Frederic, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy, drew wild applause after he zoomed down the 250-metre piste as the second-last racer. He earned a score of 26.75 to beat Begg Smith (26.58) and Wilson (26.08).

Canadian fans had to wait for the final mogul maniac – top qualifier Guilbaut Colas of France – before starting their celebration. Colas stumbled in a couple of spots on his run, and fans chanted “Canada, Canada” while waiting for the Frenchman’s tally.

“It’s the best feeling ever,” said Bilodeau. “I’ve been prepared for it. I have a great team behind me, and there is more to come. The party is just starting for Canada and I will be out cheering for them.”

Noting that Begg-Smith was back strong following knee surgery, and the field was full of medal contenders, Bilodeau said he entered the gorgeous West Coast day with a butterfly or two.

“I was nervous, but comfortable, probably the most comfortable I’ve ever felt. I just went for it.”

Wilson, a self-admitted “longshot”, impressed the judges by pulling off a double full flip – as did Bilodeau – on the top jump under a chilly, clear sky with little northerly wind.

Under sun-kissed Valentine’s Day skies in the early afternoon, Begg-Smith qualified fourth in the field of 30, with a score of 25.03, encountering a slight glitch in his second jump.

“It was a wee bit off,” said Team USA coach Steve Desovich. “He went steep into it.”

Desovich checked video-tape during the two-hour break before the final and made adjustments, confident his athlete would recover. Bilodeau qualified second at 25.48.

Begg-Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury in a World Cup race last February in Utah, forcing him to miss the test event at Cypress.

He represented Canada in Nor-Am competitions as a highy-touted teenager from 1997-99 and kept wearing the maple leaf until 2001 when he had a falling out with his coaches over an online marketing venture he started. He is reportedly become a self-made millionaire through the business.

He took two years off the World Cup circuit when he and older brother Jason qualified for Australian citizenship.

In moguls, turns account for 50 per cent of the score, while speed and air are worth 25 per cent apiece. There are five judges.

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