TORONTO - Even before Alexandre Bilodeau had Canada's first home-made gold medal slung around his neck Monday night, the country's newest Olympic hero was already getting serious attention from Canadian companies eager to attach their brands to his historic feat.
Just hours after his win in freestyle moguls Sunday, Bilodeau celebrated with a trip to a local McDonald's, scarfing down a Big Mac and fries after posing for a publicity shot with grinning members of the restaurant's counter staff.
Winning a medal - particularly one with the significance attached to the first ever Olympic gold won on Canadian soil - will likely lead to more opportunities for the 22-year-old skier to partner up with Corporate Canada.
In the past, Olympic champions or notables such as speedskater Catriona LeMay Doan and triathalete Simon Whitfield and others become coporate sponsors and motivational speakers, cashing in on their fame and remaining in the public eye long after their Olympic glory.
For Bilodeau, accolades and tributes began to rain down on the moguls skier almost as soon as he had posted the win. The Royal Canadian Mint and Canada Post stepped up quickly to honour the Quebecer's victory with the immediate release of gold medal commemorative coins and stamps, though they didn't mention the skier by name.
Jeff Bean, a former Olympic freestyle skier who has trained with Bilodeau, said his win - both on the hill and with sponsors - will have a dramatic positive impact for his fellow skiers, raising the profile of the sport and making it easier for other freestylers to secure similar marketing opportunities.
"Having Alex and (women's moguls silver medallist) Jen (Heil) and the whole team having done what they did really put our sport on the map and is going to help us," said Bean. The former Olympian now works at Royal Bank (TSX:RY) as part of a sponsorship program to help fund Olympic athletes like Bilodeau and others on the Canadian freestyle ski team.
"With having two medals already, aerials to come, we're going to be on the nation's radar now, people are going to know what mogul skiing is and a lot of young kids are going to ski moguls."
Louis Payette, national spokesman for McDonald's Canada (NYSE:MCD), said the company approached Bilodeau after his race, asking if he would meet the crew behind the counter at the main Olympic media centre on the Vancouver waterfront to give them a taste of the excitement.
"It was kind of spur of the moment, hours after he wins gold at Cypress... he came down and really was so generous with his time and sharing with our crew, sharing the moment - those kids were so proud."
Bilodeau joined the McDonald's Olympic Hopefuls program in 2006 and has been an ambassador for the company ever since. He is one of several Canadian athletes featured in a series of Olympic-themed McDonald's ads.
Payette said Bilodeau is a great spokesman for the sport and for Canada's largest fast-food burger chain.
"He's got such an engaging personality, he cares about giving back... he's done fantastic work supporting us during McHappy day," when the company donates proceeds to children's charities.
Bean, who has known Bilodeau for 10 years and trained with him in Lake Placid, said there couldn't be a better role model for companies looking for a face to associate with their products.
"He's someone that understands the responsibility he has just created for himself and for the sport."
He added that Bilodeau will likely be highly sought after for marketing deals.
"If I was in charge of a big company, he's the first person I would sign. I wouldn't worry one bit about putting Alex in front of any situation and trusting him completely with my brand."
RBC, along with Columbia ski equipment, Bell Canada (TSX:BCE) and Canada Post are sponsors of the Canadian freestyle ski team.
Royal bank spokesman Geoff Owen said Olympic tie-ins are marketing gold for sponsors. But he added the thrill of knowing you are a part of winning gold goes beyond brand image.
"Success for a brand is being able to identify and have people identify us with causes that are important to them, like amateur sports, like the Olympics," he said.