Heil carries Canadian hopes

Tue Feb 2, 2010 9:15pm EST
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By Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Not only does Jennifer Heil have to navigate a steep mountain covered with moguls and launch herself off two ramps to perform acrobatic moves on skis at the Olympics, she also has to shoulder the weighty hopes of an entire nation.

Canadians are praying that Heil could be the woman to break their nation's gold-medal drought at home by winning the freestyle skiing moguls event on February 13, the first full day of competition at the Vancouver Games.

Heil, the defending Olympic champion, will have to shrug off the pressure, ski a clean run and land some good tricks to beat a strong and deep American squad.

"The most impressive thing about Jenn is her ability to consistently ski at the top. She lays down run after run of her best skiing," said Hannah Kearney, a U.S. medal hope in the event filled with bumps and jumps to the blare of loud music.

"But I actually don't envy her in any way because there's some pressure right there. I'm looking forward to skiing against her."

Canada has hosted two previous Olympics -- the Summer Games in Montreal in 1976 and the Winter Games in Calgary in 1988 -- but could not win a gold medal on either occasion.

On the men's side, defending champion Australian Dale Begg-Smith is again the skier to beat on the moguls. Canada's Alex Bilodeau, Guilbaut Colas of France and Swede Jesper Bjoernlund should all produce podium-worthy runs.

WILD STYLE   Continued...

<p>Jennifer Heil of Canada skis to a third place finish during the first run of the ladies moguls Freestyle skiing FIS World Cup in Calgary, Alberta, January 8, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol</p>