Alex Bilodeau, Canadian mogulist Jennifer Heil’s friend, teammate and training partner almost got his prediction right. Asked earlier in the week if and when Canada would get its first ever Olympic gold medal on Canadian soil, he broke into a grin and turned to his friend “My sense is that it’s going to happen,” he said, “and I would bet a lot of money on the first day.”
Heil put in a brilliant run on an otherwise dismal, rainy Saturday night, on a Cypress Mountain course built with hay bails, imported snow and seeded with dry ice, but it fell just short. Heil held the lead for 27.86 seconds, the time it took for American Hannah Kearney to snatch it away, on the strength of a well-executed but risky flip on the upper jump.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper—who had hoped he was in the soggy presence of Canada’s first gold—instead gave her a hug of congratulations on her silver medal performance. “You made us very proud to be Canadian,” he said.
It was a performance delivered under unimaginable pressure in front of a rollicking, standing room only crowd on the first official day of competition. It was an event where the Canadian Olympic Committee had already penciled in a podium finish for Heil, as an essential first step in its ambitious plan to top the medal count at the Vancouver Winter Games for the first time in history.
As for Heil she accepted the results with grace. “I did what I wanted to do and I’m really proud,” she said, though she conceded, “no doubt about it, I was going for gold.”
Canada has never been better prepared, and athletes have never had better support, she said. Music to Harper’s ears.
“I felt like I was standing on the shoulders of so many Canadians. I felt like I had their wings on my back.” This is Canada’s medal, she said. And while it’s silver, she added, “Canadians can be assured that the gold medal is coming on home soil. Canadians have such a strong team.”
Indeed there were signs of future greatness. Chloe Dufour-Lapointe of Montreal, who at 18 is one of the youngest members of the Canadian team, put in a surprising fifth-place performance.” It was an echo of Heil’s fourth-place performance in Salt Lake City, when she was an 18-year-old Olympian.
Heil went on to win Canada’s first gold in Turin in 2006 on the first day of competition, helping inspire a medal run that gave Canada its best-ever Olympic result, third in the medal count.
As for Saturday’s U.S. gold, perhaps Canadians can make a minor claim. “I’m half-Canadian,” said Kearney, whose mother, Jill, is from Montreal, “so I pretended the Canadian cheers were for me.”