16 February 2010

Proud to be a Canadian

Alexandre in full flight winning Canadas' first ever Olympic gold medal on home soil

Alexandre Bilodeau (middle) celebrates Monday in Vancouver after receiving his Olympic gold medal in the freestyle skiing moguls event at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. He finished ahead of Australia's reigning champion, Dale Begg-Smith (left), who was born and raised in West Vancouver, and American Bryon Wilson.

Photograph by:
Larry Wong, Canwest News Service, The Province

Canada saluted "Alexandre the Great" on a night the country has waited to celebrate for 34 long, painful years.

And as the majority of 22,000 fans stood and lustily sang "O Canada," they almost blew the Teflon roof off B.C. Place Stadium.

"It was the best gift I could ever imagine from Canadians, just singing that anthem with me," said a damp-eyed Alex Bilodeau, who won gold in the moguls competition at Cypress Sunday.

"I'm just so proud to be Canadian."

B.C. Place was a sea of red and white with most of the crowd cheering for Canada as the Maple Leaf was raised above the Stars and Stripes and the Australian flag.

When video clips of the three medallists were shown on a big screen, the crowd cheered bronze medallist Bryon Wilson of the U.S.

But some booed transplanted West Vancouverite Dale Begg-Smith, who won the silver for Australia.

Canada had waited more than three decades to watch one of its athletes top the podium on home soil.

It didn't happen in Montreal in 1976 or in Calgary in 1988 and, until Sunday, Canada held the dubious record of being the only Olympic host country to have failed to win gold.

Bilodeau, 22, was modest when asked about that achievement.

"Yeah, but I'm not the last and there'll be many more in these Games," he said. "That medal isn't worth more than the upcoming ones."

He said he was amazed at the roar that shook the stadium when he was introduced.

"There are no words to describe that," he said.

"It's the best feeling ever. It's a dream come true."

He said it was like winning the lottery competing in his own country.

Asked what he'd said Sunday night to his older brother -- and inspiration -- Frederic, who suffers from cerebral palsy, Bilodeau said it had been his brother's birthday on Feb. 8.

"I said, 'Happy birthday. I love you.'"

Quebec Premier Jean Charest watched the medal presentations and Premier Gordon Campbell unfurled a large Canadian flag.

Vancouver 2010 CEO John Furlong said Canada was lucky to have Bilodeau as its first gold medal-winner on home soil.

"He's a wonderful young guy and he's got a such a great spirit," Furlong said. "Today he's the most popular citizen in Canada."

Many people in the crowd said they were delighted to have lucked out on seeing Bilodeau get his medal.

"We didn't know until we got here tonight," said Leslie Pearson, a Vancouver human-resources consultant. "That made us even more thrilled."

Meanwhile, on the streets of Vancouver, the crowds went wild.

Hundreds of fans loudly cheered and shouted "Canada! Canada! Canada!" at Robson Square as the gold medal was placed around Bilodeau's neck.

Everyone stood and loudly sang "Oh Canada" as the Canadian flag was raised live on the big screen telecast from B.C. Place Stadium.

"It gave me goosebumps," said Kyle McNeil, 26, of Vancouver.

"This gold medal was a long time coming. And he deserved to win it. I'm glad it happened in my own town."

Others were equally excited.

"I" m so proud," said Larry Lee, 30, of Vancouver.

"I'm full of pride to be a Canadian."

"It was awesome. I feel really patriotic," said Katie Andersen, 22, of Toronto.-AP
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