Heil has a new challenger

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:25 AM ET

Heil ho silver, and away!

Canada's Olympic gold medal winner, the back-to-back-to-back queen of bumps and jumps, returned to the podium yesterday with a silver medal.

At the same time she discovered, in this shortened ski season, that she's not going to be the Lone Ranger.

Nope. She's going to have to deal with old Sparky.

If the pride of Spruce Grove is going to win a fourth straight World Cup moguls ski title, she's going to have to deal with Shannon 'Sparky' Bahrke of the U.S.A.

While Heil bounced back from crashing and finishing 11th in the World Cup opener last weekend in Mont Gabriel, Que. to finishing second in Deer Valley, Utah yesterday, Bahrke finished first. Again.

Heil definitely has somebody new to contend with in the shrinking circuit.

Sparky Bahrke hasn't come out of nowhere like Heil did to take away the crown of legendary Kari Traa of Norway.

But she's come back from near nowhere.

Bahrke, 26, is three years older than our golden girl. She won the silver on the same course at Salt Lake 2002 while Heil was finishing fourth. Then she damn near disappeared.

LOTS OF INJURIES

"She won the World Cup title the year I was away," said Heil of the 2002-03 season she took off to allow her pistons to recover and begin studies at McGill University.

"She had to deal with a lot of injuries since, back-to-back real serious injuries, and didn't have a good Olympics last year," Heil said of the girl the Americans call their 'Energizer Bunny' for her distinctive glitter eye shadow and high-energy style.

Bahrke was just happy to make it back to the Olympics last year after being severely short of successes between Olympics. She finished 10th.

"It's great to see her back from all her injuries. She's one of the more consistent skiers when she's healthy. We know each other real well. We've had a lot of fun together. She has a great personality and is a lot of fun to socialize with."

Bahrke, with the back-to-back wins, increased her World Cup gold total from five to seven over her career.

Heil has won a dozen.

When Bahrke won last weekend, it was her first since 2003.

Bahrke now has 200 points in the season standings. Heil, who collected only 24 for finishing 11th, received 80 for finishing second. She now has 104.

That's no big deal in a normal season. But not this season.

And while the season is less than a full week old, the way events are being cancelled, it's obvious there's not going to be much to this season.

"We lost two events in Europe before Christmas. Lake Placid looks like it's going to be called off for next weekend and we're supposed to be in the Czech Republic the weekend after that and that doesn't look like it's going to go.

NO EVENTS

"I talked to a member of the Czech team who said there's no snow now and none forecast for the rest of January. We'll probably lose that, too. The weekend after that was supposed to be the world championships in Italy and they were postponed the other day. That'll be three straight weekends without an event.

"We have dual moguls here Saturday, an event in Norway, one in Japan and one back in Canada at Apex. That's not many events to make up a lot of ground. Hopefully they'll double up on some of those."

Heil says she was thrilled with the best 360 of her career before she crashed in Quebec but wasn't over the moon about this one.

"I was really happy to bounce back with a medal after what happened last weekend. It feels like the season has started now. It was a solid performance and I can build on that.

"I qualified first so I was able to start last out of the gate. But I found myself to be a little bit nervous. I think I needed to be a little more aggressive."

Golden girls aren't happy with anything less than gold.


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