We asked the Sports Illustrated writers who covered the Turin Olympics to leave us with their indelible memory of the Games.
A funny thing happened on my way to see Jennifer Heil win a gold medal in moguls skiing, which was the first and, in my jaundiced opinion, the best, for Canada in its record-setting Olympics. Actually, it wasn't so funny. Phoenix Coyotes associate coach Rick Tocchet was up to his steely gaze in a New Jersey police investigation into a gambling ring, WayneGretzky's name was in the news, and well, although I had been assigned to cover that women's moguls race somewhere up a mountain, as a hockey writer, I was otherwise occupied. To be honest, I don't much care for snow, a distaste carefully nurtured during 27 years in my adopted home. And I really don't care much for moguls, either, because any sport that bases its results on a mixture of time and judging is just begging for trouble.
I do, however, like Heil.
She is what Lou Grant on the Mary Tyler Moore Show -- ask your parents -- would have called "spunky." Unlike Lou, I love spunk.
I know Heil slightly because we worked out together a couple of times last summer. Well, let's back that one up. We worked out at the same place and at the same time, a fitness spot near the Lachine Canal in Montreal. Her trainer is Scott Livingston, the Canadiens' strength and conditioning coach. My occasional trainer, such as that goes, is Scott's wife, Jamie. While Scott was torturing this poor Olympic medal candidate, Jamie was trying to get me to touch my toes. Yes, it's pretty shameless to suggest that Heil and I worked out together, although probably no more shameless than having experienced my "Olympic moment" with my feet up, in front of a TV.
Anyway, I've seen what it takes to be a champion from a distance of 15 feet or so. I have watched an elite athlete do things with her body, and her will, that humbled me. There was no athlete better prepared for greatness in Turin. A Montreal businessman named J.D. Miller had put together a team to make sure of it, a gaggle of support that included, among others, a magical athletic therapist named Dave Campbell and another guy whose name escapes me but who was Heil's lactic acid coach. (Who knew that lactic acid even could be coached?) She had a bigger posse than Prince in the '90s. In 2002, as an 18-year-old, Heil had missed the podium in Salt Lake City by one hundredth of a point. Now, nothing was left to chance. Three days before I left for Turin, Campbell called. He said, "The difference is four years ago Jen was a great skier. Now she's made herself into a great athlete."
The race wasn't much of one, as far as I could tell. She led by a wide margin after the qualifying run, then smacked everybody around in the final. You don't have to know anything about moguls -- and trust me, I don't -- to realize she was the class of the field. Heil just looked better -- quicker down the bumps, with more air on her snazzy tricks than the field, including Norwegian champion KariTraa.
Heil smiled when she finished her race, and she smiles even better than she skis. If there were Olympic podiums for smiling, it would be Jennifer Heil, Canada, gold. No silver. No bronze.
There is a sacred covenant among my scruffy lot of sportswriters, a basic tenet of this weird, wonderful profession. It is this: No cheering in the press box.