By Nick Mulvenney
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Canada's Alex Bilodeau left his best until his very last to retain the men's moguls title at the Sochi Winter Games on Monday and become the first freestyle skier to win two Olympic gold medals.
The 26-year-old, who had already announced that this season would be his last, nailed his final jump brilliantly to lead another Canadian moguls one-two under the lights at the Extreme Park with Mikael Kingsbury claiming silver.
"It's a great feeling but ... there were two other Canadians after me, every day they push me in training and that's why I got my best skiing tonight," said Bilodeau.
"That's why I'm the best skier I have ever been right now and the guy that finished second, he is going to win everything after I have gone.
"I'm glad to finish my last Olympics like this. It's going to be a great retirement."
Trailing his rivals after errors downgraded his scores in the first two rounds of the final, Bilodeau finally got his rhythm just right for a clean third run, which he capped with a whirl of rotations to score an imposing 26.31.
His 21-year-old compatriot Kingsbury went last in the final but could only score 24.71, which nevertheless gave Canada four of the six moguls medals after Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe's gold and silver in the women's event.
Russia's Alexandr Smyshlyaev had a superb night, scything his way through the soft snow like a dervish and leading after the opening round of the final, lifting the crowd with a surprise bronze in 24.34.
But the night belonged to Bilodeau, who raised his arms in the air in delight after crossing the line, knowing he had almost certainly secured the gold.
Next up was an embrace with his brother Frederic, who has cerebral palsy, in an echo of his Vancouver triumph four years ago when he won his country's first gold medal on home soil.
It had not looked like a repeat celebration was on the cards when a couple of big mistakes left Bilodeau in eighth place after the first round of the final.
He completed both of his jumps cleanly in the second round but another error in the middle of the course as he was carving his way through the ruts saw him placed third behind Kingsbury and another Canadian, Marc-Antoine Gagnon.
That meant going third last in the final but he set such an imposing target that Kingsbury was unable to beat it.
"It's crazy," said Kingsbury, who has dominated the event for the last two years winning 15 out of 20 competitions in the World Cup and world championships.
"I was going for gold, but just to be on the podium is crazy and I am with my team mate. It's just unbelievable."
Australia's Dale Begg-Smith, who won gold in 2006 and silver in 2010, crashed out in qualifying and immediately announced he would not compete again.
Bilodeau will follow him into retirement confident Canadian moguls is in good hands.
"The future of freestyle skiing in Canada is not done, there are so many good kids coming up and I am so glad to share a podium with one of them," he said.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)