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World Cup rookie leads Canadian team in freestyle comp

Ahh, reckless youth.

Ahh, reckless youth. While Canadian freestylers concentrated on form and execution, 17-year-old rookie Jennifer Heil threw caution to the wind and blasted her way down the mogul course at the Gateway Freestyle Challenge at Deer Valley, Utah last weekend. In 2002, the same course will be used for the Winter Olympics.

The Spruce Grove, Alberta, high school student took the biggest air of the day, landed the highest air scores and made it to the finish faster than the rest of the competition, but lower turn scores cost her a place on the podium.

Her coaches were ecstatic all the same – a fifth place finish in your first year on the World Cup is no small feat.

"This is a great result for Jenn," says head coach Dominick Gauthier. "It’s only her second World Cup result and her score (23.07) definitely reflects that she is already among the top mogul skiers in the world.

"She’s young and getting experience right now. Once she puts the whole package together, she’ll be hard to beat."

For her part, Heil says she still has a long way to go. "These were the hardest jumps I’ve ever executed, but I missed my take-off a bit on the top air but luckily I was able to pull it back together on the landing. The turns felt good but I didn’t finish them off enough."

Veteran skier Tami Bradley of Vancouver/Whistler also managed to make it into finals, finishing 12 th . Jennifer Simm of Prince George narrowly missed the finals and finished 14 th .

Hannah Hardaway of the U.S. took the top spot with a final score of 24.31, followed by Kari Traa of Norway (23.85) and Minna Karhu of Finland (23.57).

The men started off strong, but failed to put a contender in the top five. Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau and Stephane Rochon qualified second and third respectively, but couldn’t follow up in the finals. Rochon finished sixth on the day and Rousseau landed in eighth.

"I didn’t have a good week of training and lost some confidence but I still went all out," says Rochon, who won an invitational event two weeks earlier in Colorado. "Jean-Luc (Brassard) really helped me out mentally for this meet."

Mikko Ronkainen and Janne Lahtela reasserted Finland’s dominance on the podium, finishing first and third respectively. Evan Dybvig of the U.S. managed to wedge himself into second, upsetting a perfect sweep by the Finn’s.

The World Cup circuit moves to Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, from January 12 to 14 before heading to Whistler for the 2001 FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships Jan. 17-21.