Crazy time on the hill

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:41 AM ET

Jenn Heil has been a high-profile Canadian skier for some time now. Yesterday she became a certifiable Crazy Canuck.

Fifty-three days before the Turin 2006 Olympic Winter Games, the Spruce Grove World Cup champion moguls skier risked at least limb, if not life, to win gold at the Oberstdorf, Germany, World Cup.

"Yeah, I was a Crazy Canuck. Totally," she laughed in a telephone interview from the site of her first triumph of the season.

"I had a chance to hear Steve Podborski speak a couple of times and remember him saying it pays off to be bold," she said of the downhill Crazy Canuck team member who went all out when others backed off at the famed Kitzbuhel, Austria, event and others when conditions were less than ideal.

"I've never competed in a World Cup like this one before. Nothing could compare," said Heil of what she was dealing with yesterday. "Saturday, the entire mountain was closed. When we arrived at the course for the race, there was no course!

"There was a metre of snow. The course was completely buried.

"Eventually they managed to get parts of the course cleared. But it was very dangerous conditions.

"Everybody was tumbling and crashing. There wasn't enough room on the sides of the course. It was so dangerous.

COACHES SAID NO

"They had to stop every 15 minutes of training," she said of the mandatory sessions prior to the race, which are normally held on the days leading up to the event.

"My coaches wouldn't allow me to jump in the training. I just did straight pop jumps.

"There were some really bad crashes.

"It was four or five runs before we were allowed to do a trick off the jumps."

Heil, the gold-medal favourite heading to Turin, admits she gave the risk/reward thing some thought.

"I definitely thought about the idea of risking injury this close to the Olympics. That definitely went through my head in the morning when we finally were allowed training runs. I saw a lot of people crash.

"In the end I just decided to trust my coaches' call. They don't want me injured. I just decided to put my trust in them."

When after holding her back during practice runs they gave her the green light to go, she decided to go big.

"Maybe it's just the way I am. I have the most fun when I'm on the edge. To push myself is the ultimate for me. I actually enjoy competing in storms and difficult weather."

LIKE BEING A KID AGAIN

Heil said she actually went back to when she was a kid this day.

"I was on skis when I was two years old. I think that allowed me to react the way I did, to kind of attack it and not have a plan.

"My approach was totally different. It felt like a ski trip to Jasper with my family and friends.

"I think it was a big advantage for me to come from where I come from. I've skied on a lot of powder. A lot of Eastern and European skiers haven't skied on much powder."

Heil, who won silver in the only other event so far this season in Tignes, France, heads home to Spruce Grove today for the holidays before competing in events in Mont. Tremblant, Que., Salt Lake and Lake Placid prior to flying overseas for a World Cup stop in Italy before going to Turin.

It wasn't a big day just for Heil.

Another Canadian made the podium.

"It was such a great feeling to be on the podium with another Canadian," said Heil who watched Kristi Richards of Summerland, B.C., emerge from the carnage with the silver medal.

Heil won with a score of 25.86, with Richards second at 24.21 and Nikola Sudova of the Czech Republic third at 23.85.

"We might even have a team of Crazy Canucks now," said Heil.

"That was Kristi's first medal. She's been injured the last two seasons. Last year she had pretty bad injuries. Today was her breakthrough race."

Richards wasn't just happy to find her way to the podium.

"Jenn has had such a great career and won so many events, it was just amazing to be up there standing beside the best in the world," she said.


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