On Feb. 14, 2010, much of Canada first met a young moguls skier named Alex Bilodeau, who dazzled us all when he tore down a mountain at the Vancouver Winter Games and became the first Canadian ever to win an Olympic gold medal on home soil.
In honour of the anniversary of that historic moment, we talked to Bilodeau, now 32, about that sweet day a decade ago, how he couldn’t shower for more than 24 hours after his win, how long he had to wait to have his first good drink as a champ, his yearly Valentine’s Day plans and how he doesn’t think the timing of his medal in 2010 matters.
SPORTSNET: Can you believe it’s been 10 years?
Alex Bilodeau: No. [Laughs.] Definitely not. It feels like yesterday. It’s hard to believe.
Does it actually feel like yesterday?
AB: Oh, it does. Everything seems clear in my mind. But after I look at everything that has happened since, I think, “Oh, it makes sense.” [Laughs.]
Can you take us through this day, 10 years ago?
AB: The days prior were a rollercoaster, definitely. You put thoughts in your mind, the following day you’re confident — it’s just up and down all the time. You try to manage to stay on the side of the confidence and you work with your sports psychologist. It’s that rollercoaster and then you get ready that night before, again it’s more rollercoasters. But at the end of the day your job is to focus on what’s relevant, and what’s relevant is what you control. What I could control was focusing on my performance. I had to remember I’d done everything in my power to be as ready as I could that day and just let everything go.
You were in second after the first of two runs. Were you thinking you were in the perfect position to strike and earn that top spot?
AB: Being second after the first round was a good place to be. We wanted to be one, two or three. So I was right in the spot that I wanted without risking, because obviously if you risk too much in the first round, you might not even make it to the second round. It’s all about risk and reward.… In the final everybody pushed to the max. You always have to be all-out on the last one to make sure you have a chance to hit the gold. First round was strategic, second round was, “You know what? That’s the moment. Let’s let everything go.”
You let everything go. Then how did you celebrate?
AB: [Laughs.] There was two weeks of celebrations — an exhausting two weeks. We had a lot of media in the first two days, didn’t sleep for two days. I think I showered only 30 hours later because I was everywhere and in media centres and doing interviews and everything. Then went for a quick shower, had a nap for an hour and then back to the media centre. The first drink I had was I think more than 48 hours later…
Wow, that’s terrible…
AB: [Laughs.] After that I spent a lot of time with all the other athletes that had finished and we caught up, and it was fun to be with friends and family there.
Could you feel the country celebrating with you? I remember the Vancouver streets were overflowing with people celebrating Canada’s first Olympic gold on home soil.
AB: Oh, definitely. Vancouver was totally a different place for those two weeks. Drinking outside was allowed for two weeks. [Laughs]. Everything was allowed, everybody was in on the party. It was two weeks of straight emotions. It was an amazing experience to be there and to also have won an Olympic gold medal at the same time in those kinds of circumstances.
It happened on Valentine’s Day, too. What do you do on Valentine’s Day every year to even try to come close to matching your 2010 Valentine’s Day?
AB: [Laughs.] It’s my excuse to actually celebrate my medal — I always have a way out of Valentine’s Day.
Brilliant. Do you do anything special on Feb. 14 to commemorate your win?
AB: I don’t really do anything. I receive a few messages from people that were very close to me that day. We exchange a few texts, but that’s pretty much it.
That day you became famous and so did your brother, Frederic. (Bilodeau dedicated his win to Frederic, who was born with cerebral palsy. Doctors said Frederic wouldn’t be able to walk past the age of 12, and Frederic proved them wrong.) Did you expect that fame to hit both of you?
AB: No, we didn’t expect that, but I’m glad he became super famous. He deserves it. He’s more famous than me, definitely on the streets people recognize him more than me and it’s always fun to see his face.
Four years later you defended your Olympic title. How different was that experience, winning in Sochi?
AB: Both medals were quite different for me, different meanings. Vancouver was a dream coming true. And Sochi, I’m more proud of my performance. I think I kind of brought my sport to the next level.
How often do those wins come up these days?
AB: Quite a bit. I think Vancouver comes up even more than Sochi. Vancouver had that effect across Canada and people remember where they were at that moment. “I remember where I was at that moment you won, and I remember I was in the restaurant!” or “I was at home having dinner with my girlfriend and we watched the Olympics and you won and we drank shots that night!” [Laughs.] So many stories that I hear from people across the country.
Do you hear about it every day?
AB: I wouldn’t say every day, but it’s quite often still.
You’re an accountant in Montreal now?
AB: I’m an accountant by degree, yeah. I work in finance.
What does an average day look like?
AB: I’m in an office in front of my Excel files, reading [about] potential investment opportunities and managing CEOs and CFOs of our company that we have under management. That’s pretty much what I do — talking with bankers all the time.
Do you like it?
AB: Strangely, I love it. [Laughs.] Just the adrenaline rush of the transactional world. And I’m somebody that loves numbers. I’m somebody that loves operations, understanding how the business runs and how the industry runs, and how you can actually add value to an operation. For me, it’s very interesting. I love to learn about various industries and how we can take potential within an industry and bring it to the next level.
Is it similar to the exhilarating feeling of ripping down a hill?
AB: It’s pretty different. The adrenaline rush is not as intense. It’s more on the long-term basis. [Laughs.] But it’s there.
How often are you skiing these days?
AB: Not much. I ski once in a while with friends and family, but I don’t go to the ski hill by myself alone. It’s not something I miss that much.
Wow. When was the last time you did a moguls course?
AB: Ooof. I don’t even know. I think I did maybe one run last winter, but that’s it. Or maybe two years ago. It’s just like an NHL player — he doesn’t go and do a free skate when he retires. It’s exactly the same thing. I can’t really do my sport recreationally.
Do you play any sports recreationally?
AB: Yeah, I play hockey. I do my five-kilometre run in the morning ever day before work, just try to stay active.
OK, last question. What’s the best part about being the first Canadian ever to win Olympic gold at home?
AB: I hate this question, because I don’t take anything out of it. For me it’s just a timing thing. Personally, I don’t think my medal is worth more than any other medal in Vancouver…. So definitely for me, I don’t see anything best to describe about that medal or if I would have won my medal five days later.
That’s a bad note to end on. Sorry.
AB: [Laughs.] No worries.
We can agree that your moment 10 years ago was really big.
AB: [Laughs.] Yes, definitely.