Bilodeau brings home the gold: Moguls skier makes Canadian Olympic history

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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VANCOUVER - Canada's Olympic gold medal drought at home is finally over. Freestyle skier Alexandre Bilodeau has won the men's moguls at the Vancouver Olympics. The 22-year-old from Rosemere, Que., wrote himself into the history books by overtaking defending champion Dale Begg-Smith - a Canadian-born skier who now competes for Australia.

It's the first time Canada has won a gold medal at its own Games. Canada failed to make it to the top of the podium in Montreal in 1976 and Calgary in 1988.

``The party's just starting for Canada,' Bilodeau told CTV.

Skiing second from last, Bilodeau blew past Begg-Smith to take the lead with 26.75 points. He then had to wait to see the final run by Frenchman Guilbaut Colas, who ended up sixth. Begg-Smith settled for silver with 26.58 points. American Bryon Wilson was third with 26.08.

Vincent Marquis of Quebec City was fourth at 25.88 followed by Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau of Drummondville, Que., with 25.83.

``I'm very happy for him and I'm really proud that it's Alexandre that has won the first gold medal for Canada,' said Rousseau.

Fans chanted 'Canada! Canada!`` as the gold medal went down to the wire at Cypress Mountain.

Bilodeau's gold follows the silver won by teammate Jennifer Heil of Spruce Grove, Alta., on Saturday night and long-track speedskater Kristina Groves' bronze earlier Sunday.

Bilodeau, who was ranked fourth heading into the Games, threw his arms in the air in celebration as he stepped on the podium after the event.

Since making his Olympic debut in 2006, Bilodeau's career has soared. He finished the 2005-'06 season ranked second in the world and was named FIS rookie of the year. The following season he finished No. 3, and in 2007-'08 he was No. 4.

Last season, he exploded on the World Cup hills, winning five golds and three silvers in nine starts en route to the overall championship.

He had won medals in three events this season but gold had eluded him _ until Sunday.

``I don't think I've realized it yet,' Bilodeau said in the CTV interview. ``It's just too good to be true, but there are so many golds to come. Canada is so strong right now.'

Earlier, the home crowd showered their speedskating sweethearts with love and promptly saw their Valentine's Day affections rewarded with Canada's second medal.

Ottawa long-tracker Kristina Groves, 33, earned a warm bear hug from her fellow Canadian racer, the flame-haired flag-bearer Clara Hughes, after gutting out a bronze-medal finish in the women's 3,000 metres at the Richmond Olympic Oval.

Czech Martina Sablikova claimed the gold and Stephanie Beckert of Germany the silver. Hughes, of Glen Sutton, Que., racing in the second-last race of her career, was fifth, while Winnipeg's Cindy Klassen, a five-time medallist at the 2006 Turin Games, was 14th.

Outside the oval, the persistent Vancouver rain of the last few days gave way to brilliant sunshine, helping to soften some of the deeper furrows in Canada's collective brow after the Games got off to a start which, by most accounts, could have been better.
An hour's drive away, however, weather woes continued to plague Whistler's Olympic Village, where no less a dignitary than Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean got a first-hand taste of just how wet a B.C. winter can get.

"I don't mind the rain," Jean, who was on hand for a "discussion" about the importance of the Olympic spirit, told a group of athletes as they huddled under umbrellas and blankets.
Women's downhill ski training had to be cancelled yet again, along with the super combined race that had been scheduled for Sunday.

In the nearby Callaghan Valley, where the nordic, biathlon, nordic combined and ski jumping events are held, the snow is packed down but high humidity has made the course slippery, forcing skiers to put up with a lack of training runs and a course that wasn't to their liking.
"Conditions here are hard, they're changing all the time," said Canadian cross-country skier George Grey.

Canadian biathlete Jean-Philippe LeGuellec battled through rain, sleet and then wet snow to a sixth place finish in the men's biathlon 10-kilometre sprint, a result officials called one of Canada's best in years.
"All in all it was an awesome race, and I'm really happy," the soaking-wet 24-year-old from Quebec City said after struggling through a snow squall in the last kilometre of his race.
He might have placed higher - perhaps even in the medals - except for one missed shot in the second round of shooting, but LeGuellec and his coach billed the finish as being among the best results in the history of Canadian male biathlon racing at the Olympics.

The forecast for Whistler this week predicts mostly sunny skies, but the daytime high is expected in the range of 4 C, not the average -3 C normal at this time of year.
In Vancouver, highs are predicted to reach up to a balmy 14 C.
Organizers remained positive, despite the rising mercury, and pointed to the successful women's mogul event Saturday night, where Canadian Jenn Heil took home the silver.
"Mother Nature is starting to smile on us," said Renee Smith-Valade, VANOC's vice-president of communications.
"We're confident that the alpine events will go ahead."
Chris Rudge, chief executive officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said there are always weather delays in alpine events.
"If we were sitting here with four more days to go and none of the events had been run, I think we'd say we have a problem. But I certainly don't think that's going to happen."
It's not been a flawless start for the Games.

The grim fortunes began with the shocking fatal crash Friday of a 21-year-old Georgian luger, a tragedy that put a damper on that evening's opening ceremonies. A malfunction with the Olympic cauldron at the end of the spectacle didn't help matters.
On Saturday, Heil put her best face forward after claiming silver in the women's moguls, but had to concede in post-event interviews that she'd had her heart set on winning Canada's first gold medal on home soil, as had fans across the country.

Organizations: Vancouver Olympics, CTV, Richmond Olympic Oval Canadian Olympic Committee

Geographic location: Canada, VANCOUVER, Quebec City Rosemere Australia Montreal Calgary Drummondville Cypress Mountain Spruce Grove Whistler Ottawa Germany Winnipeg Olympic Village Callaghan Valley

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