Flashback: Alexandre Bilodeau wins Canada’s first home gold (video)

Alexandre Bilodeau
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Canada’s goal at the Vancouver Olympics was to “Own the Podium,” but first it had to reach the top step for the first time on home soil.

No Canadian won gold at either the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal or the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. The infamy had to end in 2010.

The top billed hope was a moguls skier, 2006 Olympic champion Jenn Heil, who competed the night after the Opening Ceremony. But Heil took silver behind American Hannah Kearney.

The spotlight stayed on moguls for the men’s competition the following night at Cypress Mountain. The favorites were enigmatic Australian Dale Begg-Smith and Frenchman Guilbaut Colas, who combined to win the five World Cup events going into the Olympics.

But Quebec’s Alexandre Bilodeau beat them both with a chill-inducing run, inspired by his older brother, Frederic, who has cerebral palsy.

“It puts everything back into perspective,” Bilodeau said then, according to the Toronto Star. “I’ve got that chance to train, and maybe one day will be an Olympic champion, and I’ll take it. Even if it’s raining, I’ll take it. I’ll go train. (Frederic) doesn’t even have that chance, and he has a smile. Every morning he wakes up, and he’s got all the right to complain, and he never complains. … We can learn from those people.”

What’s Bilodeau up to now? He’s still skiing at an elite level, finishing second to countryman Mikael Kingsbury in the last World Cup season standings and the 2013 World Championships.

Bilodeau will try to become the first moguls skier to win multiple Olympic titles in Sochi, but he might get beaten to the feat by Kearney. Regardless, he said he will retire after the season.

“A lot of people are asking me, how is it going to feel to defend my medal?” Bilodeau told CTV. “I don’t see it as I’m going to defend. My medal is at home, I’m not bringing it to Sochi. It’s not like boxing, I’m not putting it on the table. I’m going to Sochi to try to be the first one to win two golds in the row. And I’ll be ready, I’ll be ready.”

It’s true that the Olympic crowds on the streets and in Robson Square in downtown Vancouver were never more raucous than during and after the men’s hockey final on the final day of the Games.

But a clear second place was that night two weeks earlier, when Bilodeau ended the infamy.

“Oh, Canada, the drought is over,” NBC Olympics commentator Todd Harris said. “Alexandre Bilodeau has won gold. … You enjoy it, Frederic. The headlines from Newfoundland to Yukon will read the drought is over.”

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Analyzing Infostrada’s 2014 Olympic medal predictions

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here with redactions.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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