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Canada get strong performances and moves atop Sochi standings


SOCHI, Russia — Alex Bilodeau and Charles Hamelin took their customary spots on top of the podium as Canada surged into first place in the medal standings at the Sochi Olympics.

Bilodeau became the first freestyle skier to defend a moguls gold medal with his blistering run in the men’s final.

The native of Rosemere, Que., who won Canada’s first gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games, is only the second Canadian to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the same Winter Olympic event. Speedskater Catroina Le May Doan won back-to-back 500-metre long track races in Nagano (1998) and Salt lake City (2002).

Mikael Kingsbury, Bilodeau’s teammate and main rival, took silver. Kingsbury went last in the final and had a chance to unseat the Olympic champion, but the native of Deux-Montagnes, Que., came up short.

“It’s a great feeling, but I need to first of all thank all my colleagues,” Bilodeau said. “I was the third to go, there were two other Canadians after me, every day they push me in training and that’s why I got my best skiing tonight. That’s why I’m the best skier I have ever been right now and the guy that finished second, he is going to win everything after I have gone.”

The star skier’s perfect run is also the perfect end to his Olympic career.

“I’m glad to finish my last Olympics like this,” Bilodeau said. “It’s going to be a great retirement. The future of freestyle skiing in Canada is not done, there is so many good kids coming up and I am so glad to share a podium with one of them.”

Earlier, short-track speedskating star Hamelin of Ste-Julie, Que., won the gold medal in the men’s 1,500 metres with a focused and confident race. While not a repeat champion — not yet, anyway — Hamelin is no stranger to the top of the podium. He won two gold medals in Vancouver, in the men’s 500 and as part of the relay team.

Canada’s second three-medal day of the Games moved it atop the Sochi medal standings. Canada has seven medals (three gold, three silver, one bronze) heading into Day 5.

The Netherlands, which has been dominating the long-track speedskating events, also has three gold medals and seven overall. But Canada is ahead with one more silver than the Dutch.

Norway also has seven medals, but one less gold than Canada and the Dutch.

Bilodeau and Kingsbury delivered Canada’s second one-two-punch as the team dominated the slushy, difficult moguls course at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Montreal sisters Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe finished first and second in the women’s moguls two days ago.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the World Cup stars. Bilodeau nearly fell in the first elimination run and flirted with getting bounced with an eight-place finish, while Kingsbury didn’t look dominant until the second elimination run, where he finished on top.

Bilodeau’s experience showed in the final, where he put down easily his best run of the Games. Kingsbury, who may have peaked in the second elimination run, couldn’t catch him.

“It’s crazy,” Kingsbury said. “I was going for gold, but just to be on the podium is crazy and I am with my teammate. It’s just unbelievable.”

Marc-Antoine Gagnon of Terrebonne, Que., almost made it a Canadian sweep, but he finished fourth.

Hamelin took a step towards becoming the country’s most decorated winter Olympian of all time with his win in the men’s 1,500 short-track event. That gives him four Olympic medals overall, including three gold. Long-track speedskater Cindy Klassen has six career medals, but Hamelin still has three races left in Sochi.

“Of course I want to be on the podium again,” Hamelin said. “But this is short-track and it’s a tough sport.”

Hamelin will have two more chances to win individual gold in the 500 and 1,000, and he’ll be part of Canada’s team in the 5,000 relay. He won the 500 and was part of the gold-winning relay team four years ago in Vancouver.

Hamelin is expected to compete for gold in those events in Sochi. Winning the 1,500 is an extra bonus, as Hamelin was seventh in the event in Vancouver.

“It’s not my best distance,” said Hamelin. “But I had a really good start and was able to control the race afterwards. I am looking forward to continue (racing) that strong this week.”

Canada’s men’s hockey team finally arrived in Sochi and had their first practice on Monday, with Jeff Carter right wing alongside captain Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on the top line.

Team Canada opens its title defence with a game against Norway on Thursday.

The women’s hockey team were held scoreless by Finland for almost 50 minutes, but Jayna Hefford, Rebecca Johnston and Megan Agosta-Marciano scored late in the third to give the Canadians a 3-0 win.

Next up for Canada is a date with the rival Americans on Wednesday. Both teams are 2-0.

Canada’s curlers also started their medal quests today, with Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones beating China 9-2.

Jones said her teammates had trouble hearing each other while the raucous crowd cheered wildly as Russia took on Denmark three sheets over.

“You can’t really hear very well, but we’ll come up with some solutions to that,” said Jones, who has hand signals worked out — a hand up means stop sweeping — for when the din of the crowd threatens to drown out her directions.

“I thought we did a good job managing it and we’ll figure it out going forward.”

Brad Jacobs had a tougher time, with his rink from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., beating Germany 11-8 before losing 5-4 to Switzerland.

Canada won gold in men’s curling and silver in women’s at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

 
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