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Bilodeau masters moguls, gives Canada its first gold

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Tension gripped the finish area, and, quite likely, most of the 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 was kind to Canada and, at the same time, reached out and touched an unheralded American on Sunday night.

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 — when the final skier of the men's moguls competition, Guilbaut Colas of France, was fast but not sharp enough, tumbling to sixth place.

Second, by 0.17, was defending Olympic champion Dale Begg-Smith of Australia, who grew up not far from Cypress Mountain, and the bronze went to Bryon Wilson, who grew up in Butte, Montana.

"It's too good to be true," Bilodeau said in a TV interview, and also paying tribute to his disabled older brother Frederic.

He later told reporters: "The party is just starting for Canada."

Bilodeau, like the 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.

Wilson's presence on the podium was a stunning development. At the start of the season, he wasn't even on the American A-Team and only got into a World Cup race when a teammate was injured.

He came on strong — recording two second-place finishes in World Cup action — and peaked at precisely the right time. He 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's finish made up for what was shaping up as a disappointing night for the American men. 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.

Live by speed, lose by speed.

It came down to Wilson to redeem the night for the United States. He made a statement in qualifying, placing third behind two of the bigger names in the sport, Colas and Bilodeau, and finished ahead of Begg-Smith.

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