February 12, 2006
Heil's gold medal no surprise to family, friends
CARY CASTAGNA -- Edmonton Sun

SPRUCE GROVE -- Dozens of Jennifer Heil's closest friends and biggest supporters erupted into thunderous cheers shortly before noon yesterday at a Boston Pizza in this community 27 km west of Edmonton.

After Heil's final score in the women's freestyle skiing moguls event flashed across nine TV screens in the packed restaurant, relieved and jubilant patrons exchanged hugs and high-fives, before breaking into a chant of "Jenn" in honour of Canada's first gold-medal winner at the 2006 Turin Olympic Winter Games.

Those close to the 22-year-old phenom said they never doubted this crowning moment would come.

"I know there has been a lot of buildup. And she was just ready to do it. She was so prepared, it just needed to happen for her," said Kristin Heppell, a childhood friend of the two-time World Cup champion.

"She made a decision a while ago that she was going to focus on perfecting her skiing and not focus on doing the most difficult trick off the jump. ... She did exactly what she wanted to do."

Caitlin Wilson, 22, said her friend is an inspiration for Spruce Grove.

"It shows a smaller community can still produce an Olympic athlete," she said, adding Heil has always had a competitive mindset. "We knew this would happen eventually."

Heil's former principal, John Oldham, said he knew she was focused on winning when he saw her eyes on TV.

"She had the eyes," he said. "Did you see the eyes at the beginning of that run?"

Just prior to Heil's run, tensions were running high.

Keri Getz, 22, said she could barely breathe and her "heart was jumping out of her shirt," while Leah Shennan, 22, said she was shaking with nerves.

And everyone in the restaurant, which was decorated with red and white balloons emblazoned with maple leafs, held their breath as Heil soared through both jumps on the course.

Many, including serving staff, were left wiping away tears of joy in the end.

"I'm just one of those weepy Canadian Olympic supporters," said Jessica Scalzo, who grew up with Heil's sister. "My heart is just so full of excitement for her right now."

Vic Jereniuk said he doesn't know Heil, but wanted to show his community support.

"It kinda reminds me back when we were watching the '72 series of hockey," he said. "It's so awesome."

Meanwhile, relatives who didn't make the trip to Italy gathered at the Edmonton home of one of Heil's proud uncles, Jamie McSporran.

The 46-year-old said he hosted about 30 people, including family friends - all of whom were relieved with the results.

"We have so much confidence in Jenn because she has so much confidence in herself because she's so well-prepared. But you never know what will happen on the day," he said, adding the day worked out perfectly.

"(But) if she didn't get a medal, we would've been just as proud of her."