Heil testing for gold

Jennifer Heil looks forward to the world championships. The one-day format, with her skiing under...

Jennifer Heil looks forward to the world championships. The one-day format, with her skiing under the lights, will be a good prep for next year's Olympics, which has the same format. (Edmonton Sun File Photo)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

Somewhere about 30 km from the Arctic Circle and another 30 km from the Russian border, Jennifer Heil prepares for her world championship.

The queen of bumps and jumps doesn't really need to win the world championships to be validated as a favourite for an Olympic gold medal next year in Turin, Italy.

She's won the last two world cup titles.

"A world cup title is tougher to win than a world championship by a bunch," she says. "It's more than a dozen events, not just one event on one day."

But ...

But the Olympics ...

A one-day event.

"This is as close as it gets to duplicating the Olympics," she says.

This is as close as the pride of Spruce Grove can come to dealing with what she'll deal with at the five-ring circus next year.

"The way I look at it is, first and foremost, it's a really good opportunity to use this event to prepare for 2006."

It's not like Edmonton's Pierre Lueders in bobsled where there are twice as many trips down the course at a world championships and Olympics than a world cup race. This is the same setup as at the annual stop in Fernie, B.C.

The difference is status, focus and attention. The public and the press put so much more focus on it than the world cup tour, in which Heil collected 780 points to finish ahead of defending Olympic and world champion Kari Traa of Norway (571), Margarita Marbler of Austria (568) and Nikola Sudova of the Czech Republic (546).

A LOT MORE PRESSURE

"There's just a lot more pressure. It's hard to explain. The world championship is just a different kind of race.

"I've heard there are going to be 20,000 people here. I don't believe it. But there will be a lot more than for an average race on the world cup tour."

One thing that will definitely be different for the Saturday one-day single event is that it'll be under the lights.

"It's a night final," she said.

"The last time I was here was a little earlier in the year and it was almost all night and no day anyway. Last year I was here I didn't see the sun for two weeks.

"But we don't have many night events and the Olympics is going to be held at night in our sport for the first time.

"I've only done three or four night races in my life and I've loved them. For me, it's easier to see the moguls under the lights.

"I don't get a look at the course until (today). But I expect it to be really challenging - firm with a lot of ice."

Heil took the year off after missing a bronze medal by .01 points at the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Olympic gold-medal winner Traa won that world championship. While Heil has passed and outclassed her idol, Traa hasn't exactly disappeared from the scene.

THE CLOCK AND JUDGING

Moguls skiing is different from most other sports in that it combines the clock and judging. Heil says it isn't like figure skating with the history of judges giving skaters higher marks based on past performance.

Winning the world championships isn't going to produce points for Torino.

"If anything, it might work the other way. They expect great performances from the people who are consistently on the podium.

"I want to go out there and leave no question in their minds. And I want to go to the Olympics and leave no question in anybody's mind."

There were questions after Heil's brilliant performance in Salt Lake. Many coaches from other countries went on record as saying the Canadian was hosed out of a medal.

Heil, who had finished seventh in her only world championships the year before, didn't create a controversy over it - and still won't.

"It's hard to say. There was definitely controversy. But the fact is I qualified ninth and ran pretty early and the judges generally save the bigger scores for the people who qualify highest and ski last. If I'd qualified in a higher position, I'm pretty sure I'd have won a medal. A big part of it is how you start going into the final."

Winning the world championship can't hurt.

And if it doesn't work out that way ...

"I just want to learn as much as I can and use this for all it's worth to get as ready for the Olympics as I can."


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