VANCOUVER (AP) -- Like countless other Canadian boys, Alexandre Bilodeau aspired to be a hockey player. Good thing for Canada, his mother nudged him into skiing instead.
Thus on Monday, the headline in one of Vancouver's dailies was "Alexandre the Great," and the 22-year-old Quebecker was suddenly a household name across the nation. By winning the moguls gold medal the night before, he ended what some of his compatriots were calling an Olympic curse -- Canada had been shut out of golds in the two previous Olympics it hosted.
Prime Minster Stephen Harper called with congratulations. The Royal Canadian Mint and Canada Post swiftly announced plans to issue commemorative coins and stamps in Bilodeau's honor. Marriage proposals proliferated on Twitter.
And for the first time ever, Canadians got to hear "O Canada" played in Olympic triumph on home territory as the Maple Leaf flag rose during the medal ceremony Monday night at BC Place.
The crowd at the stadium leapt to its feet as Bilodeau emerged on his walk to the podium. He lifted his arms in triumph after receiving the medal, thrust his ceremonial bouquet into the air, and then exhaled with a smile as the much-awaited national anthem began.
Bilodeau's winning performance "will be forever burned into our national memory," said Minister of State Rob Merrifield.
The president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, Michael Chambers, compared the moguls victory to perhaps the most famous moment in Canadian sports, a goal enabling Canada to beat the Soviet Union in the epic 1972 Summit Series.
"It will be one of those Paul Henderson moments," said Chambers, referring to the goal scorer. "Where were you when Alex Bilodeau won the first gold medal on Canadian soil?"
As a young boy growing in Rosemere, Quebec, near Montreal, Bilodeau was keen on hockey. His mother wearied of the logistics and steered him into skiing instead -- a move made easier because Bilodeau, then 7, was enthralled by Quebec skier Jean-Luc Brassard's moguls gold medal at the 1994 Winter Games in Norway.
When the results were posted confirming Bilodeau's victory Sunday evening, fans poured onto the streets of Vancouver to celebrate, shouting, waving Canadian flags, jumping with joy.
"It almost felt like the fire alarm for the whole city was pulled, and everyone went to the streets," said John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee.
At Cypress Mountain, the venue for the event, Bilodeau had his own family celebration -- embracing his older brother, Frederic, who suffers from cerebral palsy and was cheering from a wheelchair near the bottom of the course.
Heading into the moguls event, Bilodeau was considered a solid medal contender, but not the favorite for the gold.
At his previous Olympics, in Turin in 2006, he finished 11th. Last season, he won five events; he was not as successful this season but was diligently readying himself for Sunday's race.
His preparations included many hours spent in a Montreal lab with sensors hooked to his head and body while the team's psychiatrist monitored his responses to various stresses. The process is called bioneurofeedback -- and was one of numerous projects funded by Canada's $110 million Own The Podium initiative aimed at propelling the country to the top of the medals table at these games.
Chris Rudge, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said Bilodeau's victory helped keep the national team on track for its ambitious goal, and he defended Own The Podium against critics who have called it un-Canadian or inhospitable.
"We did not set up our program to disadvantage anyone else -- we set it up to provide our athletes with knowledge and support that they've never had in this country before," he said. "It's the name -- it's so uncharacteristic of Canada -- that has caught people's attention. Yet we're still playing catch-up."
The Canadian team's chef de mission, Nathalie Lambert, said Bilodeau and his teammates were benefiting from an unprecedented degree of crowd enthusiasm -- even comparing the red-and-white-clad Canadian fans to the orange-clad Dutch fans who surface at many major international events.
"The athletes say it's unbelievable to hear the crowd cheering for them," Lambert said. "We're typically more reserved than that. I don't know what's happened, but I hope it keeps up."