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Hitch your wagon to a star

One of the lasting images of the Olympics will likely be Alexandre Bilodeau pumping his fist after winning Canada's first gold medal on home soil. But the moment when he embraced his older brother, Frederic, may resonate more with the freestyle skiing star.

One of the lasting images of the Vancouver Olympics will likely be freestyle skier Alexandre Bilodeau pumping his fist to the crowd at Cypress Mountain after realizing he had won Canada's first gold medal on home soil.

 

But the moment when Bilodeau embraced his older brother, Frederic, may resonate more with the athlete from the Montreal suburb of Rosemère than anything else.

Frederic, 28, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 10 and doctors told him he would lose the ability to walk.

 

Although he spends most of his time in a wheelchair, Frederic still walks ? and skis.

During the final of the men's moguls, cameras showed Frederic cheering enthusiastically for his brother, jumping out of his seat and waving his arms in the air as soon as Alexandre crossed the line at the end of his gold-medal run.

 

Alexandre, 22, calls his older brother his inspiration.

 

His brother has helped him keep things in perspective all these years, during which he has won a world championship but was also stung by an 11th-place finish at the Torino Olympics in 2006.

"Even if it's raining, I'll take it, I'll go train," Bilodeau said. "He doesn't have that chance, and he's having a smile every morning he wakes up."

An unlikely candidate for 1st gold

Although Bilodeau was seen as a medal contender, few would have picked him to be the first Canadian to win gold in Vancouver. But a series of events ? from the postponement of Manny Osbourne-Paradis's downhill ski event, to the disappointment of speedskater Charles Hamelin in the short-track 1,500 metres, to Jennifer Heil capturing silver in the women's moguls ? put Bilodeau's name next on the list for a shot at making Canadian sports history.

"Now the first gold is won," Bilodeau's coach Dominic Gauthier said. "The media won't talk about it anymore. It's done."

 

But that may not be true. There's still plenty of time to relive what will likely go down as one of the greatest moments of the Vancouver Games.

Thirty-four years after the flame was lit for the first Canadian Olympics in Montreal, 22 years after the world descended on Calgary, O Canada will finally play in the medal ceremony at a home Olympics.

 

It's far too early for Bilodeau to grasp the significance of his accomplishment

"I don't think I realize what's actually going on today and what's happening to me right now," he said soon after his race.

 

If the pressure of trying to be Canada's first gold medallist wasn't enough, he had to defeat defending Olympic champion Dale Begg-Smith, whose unpopularity seems to have grown since the start of these Games.

 

Begg-Smith was born in Vancouver but chose to compete for Australia. He has not been friendly to the Canadian news media since arriving at the Games, refusing interview requests. He was, however, gracious in defeat on Sunday.

"I think it was great that Canada won gold and the crowd was really happy with it and everybody went crazy," Begg-Smith said.

Full of potential

Bilodeau burst onto the World Cup scene as a wide-eyed 18-year-old, capturing FIS rookie-of-the-year honours in 2005-06. He also won his first World Cup race that season, on Jan. 7, 2006, in Mont Gabriel, Que., becoming the youngest skier ever to accomplish the feat.

But disappointment in Turin, and an up-and-down World Cup career seemed to bother him, and fuel his critics.

 

"Bilodeau has done well before, but he's not consistent," CBCSports.ca's John Pudy said. "But he's always performed well at home, and when he's on ? he's the best in the world."

He began as a freestyle aerialist, but later switched to the moguls to improve his technique.

"Jumps were always his strong point, but the knock on him was that his skiing wasn't good enough," Pudy said.

 

In 2006, Bilodeau won four straight World Cup races and was part of two Canadian sweeps on the moguls podium. He was determined to make it to the top of his sport, and perhaps it should have been expected for him to do so in his home Olympics.

 

The accolades are starting to pour in.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke briefly with Bilodeau after his win, phoning him to say, "Canadian families across the country are proud of you, Alex."

Congratulations also came in from Quebec Premier Jean Charest, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

 

At BC Place, where thousands were gathered for the nightly medal ceremony to fete the previous day's winners, the crowd jumped to its feet when Bilodeau's victory was announced.

Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, called the medal a "unique moment in time and pride" for Canada, comparing it to Paul Henderson's winning goal in the 1972 hockey series against Russia.

 

"It will be one of those Paul Henderson moments: 'Where were you when Alex Bilodeau won the first gold medal on Canadian soil?'" Chambers said.

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