Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press
PARK CITY — Nine years ago, Jennifer Heil missed earning a bronze medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics by one 100th of a point.
Wednesday afternoon, in her last season as a World Cup skier, the 27-year-old Edmonton native won the last title she didn't already own. And Heil won it by the closest margin of victory in a World Championship mogul competition — four 100ths of a point — against an American rival who prevented her from claiming a gold medal in Vancouver last year.
"When I think about it, what all came out of that first experience, I couldn't imagine my career and all the offshoots to be this rich," Heil said, beaming after defeating reigning Olympic champion Hannah Kearney with a score of 24.35 to Kearney's 24.31. "It's a wonderful place, and I have so many beautiful memories here."
As Heil stood on the top of the podium, listening to "O, Canada" she could not help but reflect on a career that has spanned a decade and earned her every top award available to a freestyle skier — including an Olympic gold in 2006.
"It was incredibly emotional," said Heil, who went home to Canada after that first experience at Deer Valley in 2002 and helped change the way amateur athletes are funded in Canada. "It felt so amazing. Knowing it's the last time for me, I just cherished it. Everything kind of flashed and to be up there 10 years later is really special."
Heil will miss competing with the world's best moguls skiers, especially Kearney.
"It's really been a big gift, my career," she said. "Skiing against women like Kari Traa (Norway) and Hannah. They've made me better, made me stronger, not just on my skis but off my skis."
Heil has been one of the sport's top athletes for the last decade, and both her teammates and competitors say her retirement will be a great loss for moguls.
"She has dominated me for five seasons," said Kearney, who broke the hearts of millions of Canadians when she beat Heil on the first day of competition in the 2010 Winter Games. Heil had been heavily favored to win the country's first gold medal in a Winter Olympics in Canada. "This sport will not be the same without Jen in it. It's been a great rivalry. Ultimately you're competing against yourself and the entire world. But when there is a face to the competition and it's that close, it does make it exciting."
Kearney missed the grab on her bottom air (skiers are judged on speed, turns and two airborne tricks), which likely cost her the World Championship.
"But you can look on the bright side, it's still a silver medal with a mistake and that leaves room for improvement," said Kearney, who had won five straight World Cup events coming into Wednesday's World Championships. "It keeps things exciting."
She said knowing the World Championship didn't give skiers points toward the World Cup race may have caused her to let down a little bit mentally.
"But I'm going to be refocused," Kearney said. "It just keeps you hungry. A duel between the two of us (Kearney and Heil) might now have more meaning."
Deer Valley has been especially kind to Heil. Wednesday's win marked her fourth straight victory on the course.
"I am looking forward to a vacation here and skiing this famous powder," she said. "For 10 years I've been confined to Champion."
On the men's side, Guilbaut Colas, France, won the gold medal with a score of 26.26, while the man who did win Canada's first winter Olympic gold medal on home soil last year, Axlexandre Bilodeau, came in second at 25.66.
Canadians won the bronze in both men's and women's events. Mikael Kingsbury, who was a forerunner for Bilodeau's gold medal run last year, earned a score of 25.57. He trained with Heil and Bilodeau this summer and has finished on the podium six times in his first full World Cup season. On the women's side, Kristi Richards took third place at 23.71.
Kingsbury said he was at the bottom of the hill in Cyprus when Bilodeau made Canadian history a year ago.
"He would have finished in sixth place if he'd been in the competition," beamed Bilodeau. "We knew he was coming."
Wednesday's 2011 Freestyle World Championship continues with Slopestyle Finals starting at 9:30 a.m. at Park City Mountain Resort. Then at 3:45 p.m. qualifications for aerials begins at Deer Valley.
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