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Bilodeau's gold medal brings back memories

Abbotsford's Randy Bartsch was a competitor on the international freestyle circuit during the late 1970's and early '80s. These days

Moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau's historic gold-medal performance on Sunday – marking the first time a Canadian athlete had won an Olympic title on home soil – figures to be a huge boon to the sport of freestyle skiing in Canada.

That's according to Randy Bartsch, an Abbotsford native who serves on the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association's board of directors.

"The great thing is that there's only one first," Bartsch, who was in attendance at Cypress Mountain on Sunday to watch Bilodeau's historic victory. "For freestyle to be forever remembered as the sport that brought home the gold to Canada is great, not only for the country, but for the development of the sport going forward. Freestyle's had a very strong program, and it's going to get stronger."

Bartsch, 51, was a competitor on the international freestyle circuit in the late 1970s and early '80s, right around the time that the sport began to move into the mainstream. He and his contemporaries helped to plant the seeds that eventually yielded Bilodeau's gold medal.

Freestyle skiing was originally a professional sport, structured along the lines of golf's PGA Tour, and Bartsch turned pro in 1977 at the age of 18. But in 1981, when Calgary was awarded 1988 Olympics, the Canadian Olympic Committee wanted to add freestyle, along with curling and short track speed skating, to the Games roster as demonstration sports.

That meant that freestyle skiers would have to renounce their professional status. Bartsch was among the athletes who voted to bring the sport under the amateur umbrella in order to earn the five-ring stamp of approval.

"There was certainly a lot of lobbying by different countries on both sides (of the argument)," recalled Bartsch, who retired from the competitive scene in 1982. "Back then, it would have been hard to imagine a February day in 2010 when we'd be in the stands watching a Canadian athlete finish first and bring home the gold for Canada."

For Bartsch, watching Bilodeau's gold medal performance in person was a special experience.

"The energy in the crowd was beyond description," he said. "There was a lot of drama and excitement."