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Talk of the Games

The medal standings tell only part of the sports story of what's happening at the Games. For the rest, check out the latest dispatches from The Seattle Times' sports crew of columnists, reporters and producers.

February 15, 2010 at 11:58 PM

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Revisiting Alexandre Bilodeau's historic gold medal

Posted by Jerry Brewer

Some thoughts on moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau, the first Canadian to win a gold medal on his home soil, after watching his rousing medal ceremony Monday night:

Alexandre Bilodeau won't have to buy a meal in Canada for a while. He won't have to persuade women to date him or worry about traffic tickets or chew with his mouth closed. He won't have to walk even, because his 5-foot-8 frame will fit easily atop the shoulders of his many proud countrymen.

You knew it would be a big deal if Canada won a gold medal at these Winter Olympics and ended its unfortunate drought -- some Canadians had dubbed it a curse -- of never winning gold as a host.

Canada failed to have a top dog in the 1976 Montreal Summer Games and the 1988 Calgary Winter Games. So those perceived failures made this one the Pressure Games for Canada, especially after the country poured millions into an Own The Podium initiative.

Of course, Own The Podium became an easy target for ridicule, which United States snowboarder Nate Holland delivering the most biting quip.

"They can take that thing home," he said. "We'll just rent it for the month."

Canadians aren't big on braggadocio, so this Own The Podium thing put them in an awkward position. They had to put up -- or cover up while the Nate Hollands of the world made fun of them. Every maple-leafed athlete here couldn't have the attitude of Mike Robertson, who reacted Monday to narrowly missing out on a snowboard-cross gold medal thusly: "Disappointed? It's not disappointing at all. I just won a silver medal in Canada. It's amazing."

Well, it is amazing. But everybody couldn't share the sentiment. Not if Canada was going to own the podium. Not if some daring athlete was going to find gold.

Fortunately, Bilodeau did it Sunday night.

And now, we wonder: Is this gold the most valuable gold any Canadian has ever owned?

Not sure I've ever seen a country more excited or relieved. At the end of the moguls, one final competitor stood between Bilodeau and the gold medal. The fans at Cypress Mountain jokingly chanted "DEE-FENSE! DEE-FENSE! DEE-FENSE!" as if they were at a basketball game. It worked.

About 10 minutes later, Bilodeau was standing in the center spot at the flowers ceremony. Fans craned their necks, trying to catch a glimpse of their new national hero.

"He's so small," one fan said, almost marveling that the little guy had done something so special. "I can't see him."

Immediately after that ceremony, the public-address system blasted the Black Eyed Peas song "I Gotta Feeling," the addictive, guilty-pleasure hit single.

I gotta feeling
That tonight's gonna be a good night
That tonight's gonna be a good, good night

Bilodeau won in the best manner imaginable. As the second-to-last competitor, he upstaged Dale Begg-Smith, a Canadian who ran off to Australia, became a millionaire and adopted that country.

Bilodeau didn't just win a gold medal. He beat an enigmatic defector who, if not for Bilodeau, would've been able to shimmy in the face of the home country he'd all but forgotten.

And then you can add the ol' Olympic heart-tugging tale to his accomplishment, too. Bilodeau's older brother, Frederic, suffers from cerebral palsy, and the two shared an emotional embrace after his gold-medal triumph.

"My brother is my inspiration," Bilodeau said. "He taught me so many things in life."

Listening to Bilodeau talk, you realized this was both an extravagant and intimate achievement. Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford nailed it when she wrote: "This is what sport can offer at its very best, a glimpse of triumphs that are enormous and of national significance, intimate and tender at the same time, and so it was here."

A day later, Bilodeau was left to contemplate his newfound fame.

"Today, I think he's the No. 1 citizen in the country," Vancouver Organizing Committee CEO John Furlong said.

Bilodeau only slept three hours. He met Wayne Gretzky. He visited with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He received 842 requests for interviews, the Quebec Media Inc. Agency reported.

"I don't think I've realized yet that I've won," Bilodeau said. "The last 12 hours have been the fastest of my life. This will live in my mind and memory forever. It's an honor."

There was no greater honor than the medal ceremony. Bilodeau owned the podium Monday night.

The crowd was emotional and loud. Wearing a red Canadian jacket and a red, white and blue skull cap, Bilodeau swelled with pride. Kids waved fans. People chanted his name. Two days ago, the 22-year-old was some unknown dude from Rosemere, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal.

Today, he's the No.1 citizen in Canada, mumbling the words to "O Canada" along with his giddy nation, smiling and looking young with random patches of hair sprouting all over his face.

"I don't think I'm in that category," Bilodeau said, shrugging off the notion that he is, at least for the next 15 minutes, Gretzky-esque.

He's right. He'll never be that big. But for an ex-nobody, it must be fun to entertain the idea.

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