Bilodeau still on the move

VANCOUVER — He sipped champagne on national TV, posed with Wayne Gretzky, chatted with two prime ministers and did one interview after another after another.

Canada's Alexandre Bilodeau bites his gold medal during a medal ceremony at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver

Canada's Alexandre Bilodeau bites his gold medal during a medal ceremony at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver

VANCOUVER — He sipped champagne on national TV, posed with Wayne Gretzky, chatted with two prime ministers and did one interview after another after another.

The first day of the rest of Alexandre Bilodeau’s life was a full one, a blur of media interviews and public appearances, capped by the deafening cheers of a stadium full of new fans who watched him get his medal. Sadly for the 22-year-old from Rosmere, Que., who rocketed down the 250-metre Cypress Mountain course in 23.17 seconds Sunday night, there was no time Monday to take another thrill ride — this one down a zipline in downtown Vancouver.

The newly crowned Olympic moguls champion knocked back some bubbly on the air at CTV’s Olympic studio after his historic win, visited his sponsor McDonald’s and, after a visit to the nearby Main Press Centre, tried in vain to grab 45 minutes sleep in his room at the athletes village.

Then he was up for a 3 a.m. pickup to head back to the International Broadcast Centre for an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, then back to CTV for “Canada AM” and a round of telephone interviews.

”It’s been probably the last 12 hours the fastest of my life obviously,” he said Monday. ”I’m probably going to be in the Trivial Pursuit. . . . I can’t believe it yet.”

Bilodeau fielded calls from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former PM Jean Chretien, among others. He rubbed shoulders with The Great One.

After snatching three hours sleep Monday morning, it was back downtown for a televised news conference and more one-on-one TV appearances.

In a security cocoon and with an entourage worthy of a rock star, Bilodeau was whisked among the little broadcast tents set up on Robson Square to answer the same questions, in French and English.

While he talked, Freestyle Canada’s Kelley Korbin’s phone was glued to her ear as she fielded 40 more interview requests in less than an hour.

Bilodeau seemed to be operating mostly on adrenalin but was never edgy, patiently explaining, yet again, how his older brother Frederic, who suffers from cerebral palsy, is his touchstone for courage.

”You look at him, he’s got all the right to complain,” Bilodeau told a news conference. ”That’s when you put everything back in perspective and say I should just shut up and swallow and go train.”

He talked about Frederic — his amazing prowess on skis despite needing a wheelchair to move around — perhaps a half-dozen times in an hour but his eyes still grew moist when a French TV interviewer asked about him.

Fans who might have only known vaguely who Bilodeau was 24 hours earlier loitered around the broadcast sets to glimpse him during interviews and maybe snap a picture.

”I couldn’t tell you his name” before, said Neil Kelsey of Vancouver.

But he knows it now.

”We were watching here live last night. There was a crowd of 300 people screaming and yelling.”

Kelsey’s friend Georgiana Atchison of Vancouver was there too.

”I can hardly speak today I was screaming so loud. It was great for Canada,” she said.

At suppertime, Bilodeau was at a pre-medal private reception with more than 250 supporters and his family, including a beaming Frederic.

His 16-year-old sister Beatrice, also a freestyler, said she can’t really tell how Alexandre is handling instant fame, but she said he’s trained for it and she expects he’ll do fine.

It’s just sinking in for the family too, she said.

“We’re walking on the street seeing people recognizing us for the first time. Now they all want to take pictures.”

Women’s silver medalist Jennifer Heil said celebrating Bilodeau’s victory was amazing.

“He’s like a little brother to me, we trained together the last six years every day. I’m just so proud of the way he commanded his performance yesterday.”

When the medal was finally hung around Bilodeau’s neck in a ceremony Monday night, each mention of his name stirred the sellout crowd into a frenzy. Fans rattled noisemakers and cheered wildly as Bilodeau stepped atop the podium, exhaling deeping and tilting his head back.

With a touque pulled down over his forehead, the grin never left his lips.

Steve Keogh, communications co-ordinator for the Canadian Olympic Committee, thinks Bilodeau will be a classic Canadian hero.

”He had a quiet confidence about him and a real relaxed way about him in the village, which I think a lot of our athletes have now,” he said.

The pair were travelling between appearances around 1 a.m. when the car rolled up to a stop sign. It was one of those electronic traffic information information boards flashing ”Go Canada.”

”But then it goes ’Congrats Alex Bilodeau’ — already two hours after,” said Keogh. ”He was so touched.

”Not to sound too cliche, but he’s been perfect, just like his run.”

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