10 years ago today Jennifer Heil, an Alberta native who now calls North Vancouver home, stood at the top of the Olympic moguls course at Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver with the weight of a nation on her shoulders.
As the defending Olympic gold medalist and a dominant performer on the World Cup circuit, Heil was a gold medal favourite in moguls at the 2010 Games. The pressure on her, however, was ratcheted up to immense levels through no fault of her own, as the country was hungry for someone to become the first Canadian ever to win an Olympic gold medal on home soil. Canada had hosted a Winter Games in Calgary in 1988 and a Summer Games in Montreal in 1976 without reaching the top of the podium, and all of that pent-up up angst was seemingly transferred to Heil simply because she was a great athlete competing on the first day of competition at the 2010 Games.
So what happened? Heil competed like a champion, laying down monster runs under intense scrutiny. In the end she scored silver, placing second behind Hannah Kearney of the United States. The golden drought was ended one day later by her moguls teammate Alexandre Bilodeau. Heil is now is rightfully recognized as one of Canada's most accomplished athletes with two Olympic medals and six world championship medals, including four golds, to her name.
Here Heil tells the North Shore News about her experience competing in those 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
What was it like competing at a home Olympic Games?
It was like winning the lottery. The experience was filled with the most intense pressure and joy and was the highlight of my career.
What was the fan support like for you?
When my name was announced just before I pushed out of the start gate, it was like the entire mountain shook with the cheers of Canadians. That support gave me the courage to lay it on the line.
When I received my medal in B.C. place again the power of the support from Canadians instantly brought me to tears. All these years later I still haven’t found the words to describe what it felt like to receive such amazing support.
How do you feel about your performance?
Many journalists said that it was myself and the men’s hockey team that faced the most pressure at the Games, but that they were able to face it as a team. There is no doubt that the pressure was beyond intense, as a reigning Olympic champion, competing day one. As I look back I have so much love for the moment, for the Canadians that rallied around the athletes, to my team who made sure I was ready to face that pressure, and to my family who made it all possible. Representing our great country on the world stage has been the honour of a lifetime.
What moment from the 2010 Games is seared into your memory forever?
Too many to count! From my actual performance, to walking down Robson Street receiving high fives and joining in the singing of spontaneous O’ Canada’s, to watching my teammate and good friend Alex Bilodeau bring home gold…and on and on it goes...
How do you feel anytime you hear that “I believe” music start playing now?
Fortunately I don’t hear it all that often because I think I would for sure just start crying!
What are you up to now?
I am the VP of Sport Development at viaSport BC, an organization that was the legacy of 2010 and governs the investment in sport in B.C. We’re working on a couple of transformative projects to ensure sport is safe, inclusive and meaningful for British Columbians. I am also co-producing a couple of documentaries on women in sport, provide training to executives on a high-performance mindset, and I’m a mom to two young boys!
What advice would you give to aspiring Olympians?
My advice to anyone aspiring to reach their goals whether it be in sport or otherwise is it do it for the joy of the effort.