February 12, 2006
Coach bawls after victory
Cochrane's Cluff ecstatic for Heil
CAMERON MAXWELL -- Calgary Sun

Three years ago, Jennifer Heil put all her faith and an Olympic dream in Murray Cluff.

Yesterday, it paid off as Heil won gold in women's moguls in Turin and it came as a big relief for both the 22-year-old Spruce Grove, Alta., native and Cluff, her coach.

Cluff, who hails from Cochrane, was so overwhelmed after Heil's magnificent final run, he broke down.

"It was very emotional up top with myself and her boyfriend -- two old, grown men crying," said Cluff, who still lives in Cochrane, over the phone from Sauze D'Ouix, Italy.

"When she called me a few years ago to be her private coach, she put her faith in me and we've become very close through this over three years and the ups and downs, so it was just a big relief.

"When we got down to the bottom and our eyes caught each other, she flew over the fence and we hugged and kissed. I don't think either of us remembers what we said.

"But it was so beautiful. She's earned it and she works so hard."

After the 2002 Winter Games, Heil took a year off to get healthy and recharge her batteries, then hired Cluff.

Cluff is a former freestyle skier who broke his leg in the final training run of the 1988 Calgary Games, when freestyle was a demonstration sport.

Yesterday, he knew Heil had a dynamite run but Cluff wasn't about to call her a gold medallist until the marks were on the scoreboard.

"I'll tell ya, the last two turns weren't as clean as we'd hoped. She got a little bit bounced around and I was biting my fingernails," said Cluff. "I felt very confident because the rest of the run was so great."

Heil, the 2004 and 2005 World Cup champion, had to be better than Norway's Kari Traa, the 2002 Olympic gold medallist who had a fantastic run on the 223-metre course and was awarded a score of 25.65.

When the judges marks finally came up, after an agonizing wait for Cluff, Heil won with 26.50.

It was Canada's first medal of the 2006 Winter Games.

"There were the expectations on her but we never talk about it," said Cluff.

"People always asked me what my expectation of her was and I always said I want her to ski her best.

"She wasn't focused on the outcome ... and she got her reward."