Canadians crowned world champions 

Freestylers celebrate as injuries pile up

With just one week left, it’s going to be a bittersweet finish for the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team this season, with two athletes coming home with World Cup titles and six athletes already home nursing injuries. It’s a testament to a young team that is determined to win, and doesn’t mind taking a few chances.

Last weekend the big story was 20-year-old Jennifer Heil of Spruce Grove, Alberta, who won the overall women’s World Cup moguls title with another strong finish at Airolo, Switzerland. A bronze medal finish with just one week left on the circuit at last put her out of reach of the next competitor, five-time world champion Kari Traa of Norway.

"This is the sweetest victory," said Heil, who finished fourth in the last Olympics.

"I woke up this morning pretty nervous because I knew I could wrap up the title as the World Cup overall champion.

But I had pretty good training all week, and I tried to focus on what brought me here. That was more difficult today than it had been all year."

Heil went for it, and finished with a score of 25.54, just behind Margarita Marbler of Austria’s score of 25.72 and American Hannah Kearney’s score of 26.80.

Heil was joined in the finals by a pair of teammates, with Whistler’s Sylvia Kerfoot and Kelly Ringstad finishing seventh and ninth respectively. Jennifer Simm of Prince George also cracked the top-12 final with a 10 th place result.

In the men’s event, Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau of Drummondville, Quebec, shrugged off his medal slump with a silver behind David Babic of the U.S. Janne Lahtela of Finland was third, just ahead of Toby Dawson of the U.S. in the standings heading into next week’s World Cup final.

"It was a great, great run," said Rousseau, 24. "To have a podium and… to know I can be one of the best again is tremendous.

"This year, after having done the World Cup for eight seasons and being second overall (last season), you just take a lot of things for granted.

"But I’m skiing against the best in the world, and you can’t compare it to a regular day job."

Rousseau made the podium six times last year before he was injured, and has struggled to return to form this season.

The only other Canadian male to compete in Switzerland was Warren Tanner of Grimsby, Ontario, who just missed the finals, finishing in 13 th place. The other men on the circuit are injured.

Heil’s World Cup title came just one week after aerialist Steve Omischl of North Bay, Ontario clinched his title at an event in the Czech Republic with five gold medals and three silver medals in 11 World Cup events.

"This just means so much to me personally," said Omischl. "I knew I had to do well today to take care of the title, and to come through under pressure with my all-time best score is the best thing ever."

Canadian men have won an unprecedented 14 World Cup aerials titles since 1984, with Nicolas Fontaine of Magog, Quebec most recently winning four titles in a row from 1998-2001.

"There’s no secret. We just work hard," said Omischl. "I felt some pressure to put Canada back on top in this event because we’ve won it so many times but (have) been in a little drought lately. But we should be the best because we work the hardest and we have great facilities."

With two more medals last weekend, the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team has won a record total of 25 World Cup medals in moguls and aerials since January, with eight different athletes making the podium.

Injuries have also piled up this year with six strong contenders already on the sidelines. None of the injuries is career-threatening, but will narrow the field for Canada at the World Cup finals at Sestrieres, Italy this weekend.

Cranbrook’s Jim Schiman – on the podium twice this year – was the latest casualty, coming home from Switzerland after rupturing his left patellar tendon in training.

Schiman joins a list that already includes Stephanie St-Pierre of Victoriaville, Quebec; Ryan Blais of Grande-Prairie, Alberta; Chris Wong of Prince George; JF Therrien of Mont Tremblant, Quebec; and Elisa Kurylowicz of Manotick, Ontario.

Whistler’s Kelly Ringstad, a veteran mogul skiers, also announced her retirement after the Swiss event.

In addition to the traditional moguls and aerials events, the World Cup finals will also include skier cross and halfpipe events which are new to the World Cup circuit this season.

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