Games of the mind

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:32 PM ET

Spruce Grove's Jennifer Heil soars upside down during an Olympic women's freestyle skiing moguls event in Sauze D'Oulx, Italy, last February.

The recurring dream has finally stopped.

Jenn Heil no longer wakes up in the middle of the night with the not-quite-a-nightmare-but-definitely-disturbing dream.

"I've really struggled with it,'' said the pride of Spruce Grove, who became the queen of bumps and jumps when she won the gold medal at the 2006 Torino Olympic Winter Games.

"It went on for six months. I kept dreaming it was the night before the race and it hadn't happened yet.

''In the dream I'm telling myself to focus, focus, focus ...

"I had that dream for the first night when I came back to the village with my medal. Some nights I've dreamed it twice.

''The good thing is when I wake up, I knew it actually happened. I won the gold.''

Maybe the dream sequence has ended because Heil now has reached the point where it is time to put Torino behind her and focus forward to a new freestyle skiing moguls season and a new Olympic quadrennial - which is about to begin.

Just back from training in Switzerland, Heil has had a sensational summer as a Canadian golden girl.

"It's amazing to be a Canadian Olympic gold medal winner. Canadians are so proud. They come right up to you and tell you that. I was sitting in the sun in Hawaii and people were coming up to me and telling me how proud they were of me.''

BEST MOMENTS

The best moment of all, she said, was just the other day when, on her way home from Switzerland, she appeared at the world's biggest ski show in London, England. She was there on behalf of sponsors Marmot Basin and Jasper Park Lodges.

"After spending one morning touring around to all the major monuments being photographed with my medal, I met Nancy Greene for the first time.

"She invited me out for dinner with her. Just the two of us,'' she said of Canada's Olympic downhill ski legend.

"I meet Nancy Greene in London and she takes me out for dinner. Crazy.

"We were sitting at dinner sharing with each other and we find out we had exactly the same moment after finishing our run.

"She was so fast they thought they had a time clock error. Mine took a long while to get up on the scoreboard, too.

"In my life I've watched countless shows and documentaries on Nancy, and there we are at dinner together and she's telling me how I felt at that moment.

"It's something you can only relate to if you lived it. It was amazing to hear it from her.''

Heil goes back to business with her first event in Tignes, France, next month, not worried about going forward with a swelled head.

"I'm really fortunate. I have some amazing people around me who really keep me grounded.

''Also, they've let me know I have a whole lot to improve on.

STILL MOTIVATED

"I think it might have been tough to start again and look ahead to Vancouver 2010 after winning the gold medal. It would be like 'Where do I go from here?'

''But I have a lot to keep me motivated.''

Vancouver itself, offers major incentive.

"After Salt Lake, Torino seemed so far off. It's not like that with Vancouver.

''It definitely doesn't feel as far off.

''It's so exciting to be a winter sport athlete in Canada with the Olympics around the corner in Vancouver. It feels very close.''

And now she goes forward as the poster girl for the entire sport, knowing that she has a lot to live up to because now she replaces her idol.

"Kari Traa is definitely going to be missed. She's easily the best competitor that I've ever seen,'' she said of Norway's most popular female athlete.

"She was in three Olympics and won gold, silver and bronze.

''She very much motivated me, and still does. I don't know what it's going to be like.

''I've never experienced it. She carried our sport for the last eight years.''

Now she'll probably start having some dreams about that.


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