Canadian Olympic Freestyle Skier Alexandre Bilodeau – On Top of the World
By Robert J. Galbraith – Special to the Montreal Gazette, August 2009
On any number of occasions this summer, drivers passing through the outskirts of the tiny Laurentian village of St. Hippolyte could be treated to the sight of a figure, dressed in alpine boots and skis, flying above the forest canopy into the clear, blue summer sky, as though catapulted from a circus cannon.
Flipping head over feet while contorting like a human pretzel, he quickly disappears below the wooded skyline, like some fleeting UFO sighting. On closer inspection one could see that same person breast-stroking to the shore of a small pond, with skis jutting out of the rippled waters. Over the pond looms a long, wooden ski ramp, carpeted with plastic mats.
This figure is World Cup freestyle ski title holder, Alexandre Bilodeau, of Rosemere, Quebec, one of Canada’s top medal hopefuls in the quickly-approaching, 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.
There is a saying in the sports world that states; there is no ‘I’ in team. There is no better example of this than Bilodeau. This 21-year-old skiing phenom could not have reached this peak without the support of his team mates, his coaching staff, a network of sponsors, and most importantly, his family.
“It’s great to have my family around while I train,” explained Bilodeau. “They are always there for me, through thick and thin. Even for simple things, like my mom (Sylvie) driving me to the practice ramp. That’s important because it allows me to concentrate and keep my mind focused before I hit the ramp to practice my aerials.”
His father, Serge, not only provides some financial help through the firm he works for, as a tax specialist, but he is also a very close friend who has taught his son a lot about the competitive side of things, such as never doing anything halfway, “you are either in fully, or you’re out,” he would state. His 16-year-old sister, Beatrice, a National Ski Team member, practices at the ramp with Alexandre and looks up to him.
However, Alexandre’s greatest inspiration and motivator is his big brother Frederic. “My brother Frederic has cerebral palsy and is handicapped, but he is totally there. He plays golf with me and sometimes it will take him 3 or 4 times to hit the ball, but he perseveres and does hit it,” explained the adoring brother. “Growing up with that brings everything into perspective with me. When I am suffering in the aerials or moguls and feel that I can’t go on, I’m always thinking that if I could give my brother that chance, he would go on regardless of the exhaustion or pain. That’s the best and truest inspiration, and that is why I respect more than anything, handicapped people.”
Bilodeau explained that his 28-year-old brother has taught him to enjoy life while trying to be the best in whatever it is he is trying to accomplish. “I have the chance to be a world-class skier and I’m going to continue to take it. Frederic doesn’t, but he always tries his best in whatever he does. He never complains on any day of his life, and he’s got a right to, but doesn’t. He really enjoys life; he finds happiness.”
He practices twice a week at the ramp to perfect his flips and turns when there is no snow, as well as training everyday at the gym on body strengthening.
Freestyle skiing is a sport that includes two disciplines, moguls and aerials. In the moguls, skiers tear down the 29-degree mogul course, launching themselves off two jumps. Marks are awarded for the technical quality of the skier’s turns, the two upright aerial maneuvers and speed.
With the aerials, the competitor must perform two different jumps consisting of single or multiple somersaults with or without twists, (which during the summer at home in Quebec, Bilodeau practices at the St Hippolyte ramp). Points are awarded for take-off, form in the air and landing. The score of both jumps are added together for a final mark.
Bilodeau’s second family includes coach Dominick Gauthier and his team mates.
“Alex is a kid who, when he was young, worked a lot on developing his acrobatic and balance side. When I started to work with him in 2005 he was far from being an elite athlete, although he was a great skier and jumper,” explained coach Gauthier. “To push his skills to the next level we had to work towards making him a top athlete. We did this by involving him with elite conditioning trainer Scott Livingstone,” the former strength and conditioning coach for the Montreal Canadiens.
“In the past two years, we have started putting in as much time on the mental side of winning, as with the physical. This is why Alex is now at the top of his sport,” says Gauthier.
At the same time, Bilodeau followed the leadership role of female mogul skier Jennifer Heil, from Spruce Grove, Alberta, who won the gold medal in moguls for Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Since then, she has become a close training partner and role model for him. Bilodeau acknowledges the benefits of the partnership he has with Heil, who has lived in Montreal since 2002. “Jennifer is like my big sister. She has and knows what it takes to be an Olympic medalist, and that’s inspiring to me. We push each other to get the best out of each other. ”
Bilodeau and Heil are two of 22 athletes who receive a great part of their financial support from the B2ten group. (“B” in B2ten is for business and 2ten for 2010 Olympics). They represent a miscellaneous group of business backers from across the country who wants Canadian athletes to maximize their potential, and ask for nothing in return. This can mean paying for equipment or extra camps, or funding the mental and physical specialists the athletes use in their formula to win.
He believes that sport should be an integral part of life as it teaches responsibility and commitment. “Sport is priceless for society as a whole. It gives discipline and the desire to achieve. I just hope my drive and determination can inspire even a couple of kids to push on and find the passion. You must dream and work for your dream and it will happen. If you don’t work, you won’t learn; you won’t win.”
Bilodeau left Montreal on August 14th for Argentina, to begin his winter training.