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America vs. Canada, Round 1: Who won Winter Olympic redemption?

Both Canada and the US broke long losing streaks Sunday. The US won its first-ever medal in Nordic combined. Canada won its first-ever gold on home soil. But which was a bigger deal?

By Staff writer / February 15, 2010

Moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau won gold Sunday, the first Olympic gold that Canada has ever won on home soil.

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Vancouver, British Columbia

In the past, America and Canada have fought over many things: Quebec, bacon, Bryan Adams.

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So again Sunday a battle unfolded between these old foes, this time to claim the title of Most Deeply Aggrieved Nation to Find Redemption Through a Little-Known Statistic.

During the past few days, Canadians have been told (by Canadians, repeatedly), that Canada is the only nation ever to have hosted two Olympic Games (Montreal 1976 and Calgary 1988) and not to have won a gold medal in either.

And every four years, Americans are reminded that the words "America" and "cross-country skiing powerhouse" ought not to be used in close proximity.

Yet Sunday, 34 years after it opened its first Olympics, Canada won a gold medal on home soil.

And Sunday, 86 years after the first Winter Olympics introduced Nordic combined to a befuddled nation, America won its first medal in the sport.

Which was the greater achievement?

The properties of mathematics would seem to favor American Johnny Spillane and his silver in the Nordic combined, a sport that "combines" ski jumping and cross-country skiing. After all, 86 > 34.

Simple math, right?

Moreover, Johnny Spillane and his teammates made Americans turn on the television to cross-country skiing and not change the channel. In the annals of American achievement, this surely rates alongside Thomas Edison's invention of the incandescent light bulb and Al Gore's invention of the Internet.

For a morning in February, three Americans made cross-country skiing look like NASCAR minus the potholes, and for those 25 minutes, America became Oslo, hooting at the TV, willing men with tight pants and skinny skis to go faster.

Yet by the measure of national angst, America's Nordic combined medal drought was no Curse of the Bambino. As a rule, if NBC has to precede any statement about a sport with a reminder of what that sport is, it's safe to assume that Americans are not all that worked up about it.

Canada, on the other hand, essentially set up a 24-hour watch for the first Canadian athlete to win gold here.

It was supposed to be moguls skier Jennifer Heil Saturday night, but American Hannah Kearney chose that moment to have the best run of her life. It could have been short track speedskater Charles Hamelin, but he didn't even qualify for the final.

And so it fell to mogul skier Alexandre Bilodeau to be the first Canadian superhero to wear the maple leaf cape. The Quebecker defeated Bryon Wilson (another American) and Dale Begg-Smith (a Canadian pretending to be Australian), and he did it without creating a single Internet pop-up ad.

Advantage, Canada.

After all, if the United States had gotten its way in 1775, Bilodeau would be in red, white, and blue, and Canada would still be waiting for its first gold.

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