Canada wins gold in moguls

Deneen wipes out

February 14, 2010|By Lisa Dillman | Tribune Olympic Bureau

VANCOUVER — Tension gripped the finish area, and, quite likely, an entire nation.

Alex Bilodeau stood in the place where his Canadian countrywoman Jenn Heil watched her gold medal wind up in the hands of an American freestyler on the last run of the night.

Less than 24 hours later, fate reversed field, and, at the same time, reached out and touched an unheralded American on Sunday night at Cypress Mountain just before 6:20, local time.

Gold, Canada

Bilodeau, a 22-year-old from Montreal, won the gold medal -- which was the first for Canada when the Olympics have been on its home soil. He had to nervously wait and watch the final skier of the men's moguls competition, Guilbaut Colas of France. Colas was extremely fast but flawed on his bottom air, tumbling to sixth place.

Second, by 0.17, was defending Olympic champion and Canadian-born Dale Begg-Smith of Australia, who spent his formative years not far from Cypress Mountain before casting his lot far away. When Colas faltered, the bronze stayed with 21-year-old Bryon Wilson, who grew up in Butte, Montana and is known for his prolific ability to produce wooden fish carvings.

His artistry carved out a bronze medal in a star-studded moguls field. "A year ago, I was just hoping to make the Olympics," Wilson said.

Wilson's presence on the podium was a stunning development. At the start of the season, he was on the national B Team and only got into a World Cup race in Finland when a teammate was injured in December.

He came on strong -- recording two second-place finishes in World Cup action in Finland and peaked at precisely the right time. Wilson was half a point behind Begg-Smith, who showed his superior quality in the air, finishing with the highest air score of the 20 competitors in the final.

Wilson talked about his bond with his brother when they were kids growing up in Butte, building their own creative ski courses where he hit his first big jumps.

He said the rocky area was pretty sketchy, adding that the "landing area was pretty short and there were barbed-wire fences" not far away.

It was a day of sweet brotherhood at the mountain. Bilodeau paid an emotional tribute to his disabled other brother Frederic, who was on hand for the historic moment.

"My brother has been an inspiration for me since I was young," Bilodeau said. "Growing up with a brother that is handicapped, you learn so much from those people. Everybody could complain but you see a smile (from him)."

Bilodeau, like the moguls women's winner Hannah Kearney, had a difficult time in the Olympics four years ago, placing 11th. He admitted he wasn't quite ready for the moment in Turin, Italy.

"The party is just starting for Canada," Bilodeau said. " It's too good to be true."

A win by the Vancouver-native Begg-Smith might have been too much national angst after Heil's crushing loss on Saturday. Begg-Smith, who did not allow any Canadian reporters to come to his pre-Olympics press conference, was subdued and stayed on a measured message.

"I think it was great Canada won gold," he said. " We're out there to put on a show and I think everyone was happy with the outcome."

Wilson's finish made up for what looked like a disappointing night for the Americans. Michael Morse completed a clean but unremarkable run and finished 15th.

Later, teammate Nathan Roberts skied off the course and then reigning world champion Patrick Deneen wiped out and crashed into a control gate.

The 22-year-old Deneen certainly lived up to his nickname, The Rocket. He hit his first jump cleanly but then accelerated and picked up way too much speed in the middle of the course, leading to the crash.

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