Jennifer Heil’s homecoming has been a long time coming.
The Olympic mogul medalist from Spruce Grove is coming off what she calls her most challenging season yet, where she captured a record-tying fifth Crystal Globe as World Cup champion, as well as a silver medal at Vancouver 2010.
Although it wasn’t quite a repeat of her gold-medal performance at the 2006 Olympic Games, Heil hails the moment as a better highlight.
“It was definitely more special, this was the richest moment of my career,” Heil said Tuesday while holding the silver medal at the west-end Earl’s restaurant on 170th Street, which hosted An Evening with Jenn for friends and family.
The event came two days after Marmot Basin announced the naming of a run after Heil, who grew up skiing on the mountain.
The past few days have been a time for reflection for Heil, who followed the Olympics up with five World Cup events in Japan, Sweden and Spain to close out the season before finally returning home.
“It took a long time,” she said. “I was on a plane to Japan at 4 a.m. the day after closing ceremonies. It’s amazing to finally be home.”
It turns out it’s a lot harder to stay on top than to get there in the first place.
“This medal was a lot harder to win than gold in Turino,” said Heil, who took the entire 2008 season off to help her knees recover from injury. “To learn how to walk again, to go through that complete reconditioning, that alone was something I never expected to be that much work.
“You realize how much work it took to (get gold in) Turino. That innocence is gone of the first one and (is replaced with) your own expectations.”
Not to mention those of the host nation behind her this time around.
“There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t have the gold medal in the back of my head,” she said. “When I learned I won silver, there was a moment where the dream of the gold wasn’t there.”
But that all disappeared once she stepped onto the podium in the flower ceremony.
“I realized how lucky I was and what a big accomplishment it was for me to win a second Olympic medal,” Heil said.
But there is still one hill for Heil to conquer: her education. She is pursuing a management studies degree through McGill University and will focus on that over the off-season while she prepares for the World Championships next season.
“That’s our second-biggest race next to the Olympics, which happens once every two years,” Heil said. “Obviously it would be amazing to win a sixth Crystal Globe.
“But this season was the most satisfying of my career. There’s not one day that was easy out there. Looking back after eight years on the World Cup circuit, it all kind of falls into perspective. Next season’s just kind of the icing on the cake.”