All Heil, the Little Pepper.
Jennifer Heil of Spruce Grove, Alberta (known as Little Pepper to her teammates) had the mogul run of her young career last Sunday at the freestyle World Cup in Inawashiro, Japan.
The 18-year-old phenom spun a perfect helicopter off the top jump, then a 360 with an iron cross in the middle 180, iron cross, 180 off the bottom jump to capture her first ever gold medal.
Her previous best was a silver at Mont Tremblant in 2001. She also has two bronze medals to her credit in a little over two seasons with the national team.
"I was definitely coming off a really big high from the Olympics," said Heil, who missed the bronze medal at Park City by a hair. "I was hoping for a medal and missed by a hundredth (of a point), and stuck the same plan and looked to lay it all out."
Heil is already known on the circuit for her jumps, and posted the best air score out of any of the athletes in Japan. But what was more impressive was her performance in the bumps which, according to athletes, were some of the deepest and most jumbled they had ever skied. Heil posted the third fastest time on the course to finish with a score of 26.97.
"I wouldnt say it changes things," Heil said of her gold medal performance. "It just adds to my confidence because I never had a (World Cup) victory."
Kari Traa of Norway, the reigning world and Olympic champion, took the silver medal with a score of 25.37. Aiko Uemura of Japan was third with a 24.53.
Heil was the only Canadian to make the finals, although three other Canadian girls cracked the top 25. Whistlers Kelly Ringstad and Tami Bradley were 17 th and 21 st . National development team skier Kristi Richards of Summerland was 23 rd .
The frustrations continued for the mens team, who were unable to put an athlete on the podium. Jean-Luc Brassard of Grand-Ile, Quebec, who shocked himself and the rest of Canada when he failed to qualify for the finals at the Olympics, finished in eighth place. Ryan Johnson, who finished seventh at the Olympics, was 11 th .
The next Canadians were Chris Wong of Prince George in 25 th , and Olympians Scott Bellavance and Stephane Rochon, who were 26 th and 33 rd respectively.
The top three spots went to Mikko Ronkainen of Finland, Jeremy Bloom of the U.S. and Yugo Tsukita of Japan.
The World Cup season continues this weekend with another World Cup in Japan at Madarao.