Say it ain't snow, Jenn Heil
STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STARDefending Olympic Gold Medalist and World Champion Jennifer Heil trains on Cypress Mountain in Vancouver, Feb. 9.
At every major global sports event, there are certain stories that everyone writes during the phony-war phase leading up to the opening hoo-hah.
At these Winter Games, it's been a steady diet of weather stories locally and internationally and, in an even more hand-wringing vein, reminders of Canada's oh-fer-gold record as Olympic hosts. Appropriately enough, these two storylines meet Saturday night in the women's moguls final at Cypress Mountain, a place dumped on by everyone but Mother Nature, it seems.
If you want to get a little more exact, the convergence point might best be described as the forehead of Jennifer Heil. Saturday is the first day of medals, and among the Canadian hopes, she is at the shortest odds of Canada's top contenders. The consensus odds to win gold, from oddschecker:
Heil is The Associated Press's and Sports Illustrated's choices to win gold. The only other Saturday competitor to get that nod among those two sets is Osborne-Paradis, picked by AP to win the downhill – he's second choice on the board in a wide-open event in which favouritism belongs to Switzerland's Didier Cuche.
This is a pretty weighty position for Heil to be in. She's the defending champion, but competitors, including U.S. rival Hannah Kearney, wonder about how this is different:
I can sort of imagine what it would be like, put myself in her shoes, and I don't envy it. It depends how she handles it, but I did just learn that Canada has never won a gold medal as an Olympic host. She seems like she's got it pretty well figured out how not to internalize those things and have it affect her performance, but who knows? At one point this season I said I really want to go into the Olympics as the favorite because that would mean I was skiing incredibly well and dominating. But you know what, being the 'underdog' is easier.
The real pressure, though, has fallen on the shoulders of organizers. Intent on putting something downhill within a snowball's throw of the Lower Mainland, where locals brag about playing golf year-round, freestyle and snowboard events were scheduled for the Cypress Bowl. When the weather stayed, um, normal, the locals were barred from a favourite ski spot early and, green-mantra be damned, petroleum-burning helicopters, snowcats and trucks brought the snow in. Of course it will all come off fine, if not anywhere close to perfect – after all, they have money and carte blanche to spend it – and the snow story, like most of these runup stories everyone in the media has to do (transportation in Sydney, air pollution in Beijing, Eddie the Eagle) will fade into the background.
It's worth noting here, too, that the athletes seem pretty blase about it. As Ski cross racer Ashleigh McIvor told me at Blue Mountain during their World Cup event last month, “We're used to that kind of thing. It doesn't happen often, but when it does it's not that big a deal.”
For Heil (and for McIvor, favoured in her event), conditions are secondary. They've put a lot of time and effort into getting ready, and to waste energy fretting is something they're too experienced to do (at least, that's the theory). I'll be out there on Saturday night, because Heil represents Canada's best chance at making history. If she handles the extras, the Cypress surface will be remembered as the finest powder ever produced - gold dust, in other words.
And furthermore: NY Times on Canada's "nakedly ambitious" Own the Podium programme.
An interactive panorama of Vancouver's Olympic downtown.