The competition between American Hannah Kearney and Canada's Jennifer Heil heated up on a subfreezing day Wednesday at the Freestyle World Ski Championships at Deer Valley Resort.
Kearney is the defending Olympic champion and had won five World Cup ladies moguls events already this season. But just a week after announcing this would be her final competitive season, Heil turned in a perfect run on her favorite course to capture her only freestyle world championship.
"This feels wonderful," said Heil, one of four Canadians earning spots on the podium Wednesday. "It's a title I've never won before and there's been a lot of discussion about that in Canada. I've never been one to count my medals and count my titles, but I'm pretty happy that that conversation is over."
France's Guilbaut Colas won the men's title with 26.26 points, edging a pair of Canadians. Defending Olympic champion Alexandre Bilodeau took second and Mikael Kingsbury was third. Canadian Kristi Richards (23.71) took bronze in the ladies' moguls.
Kearney might have won gold again were it not for a mistake on the last jump, where she failed to complete a grab of her ski. She got her fingers on the ski but could not complete the trick. Though she was nearly half a second faster than Heil down the Champion course, she received a 0.6 deduction on the jump —with the 0.04 point difference between Heil (24.35) and Kearney (24.31) the closest ever in a world championship.
"I missed my grab on bottom air, so therefore the trick was incomplete and the score reflected that," Kearney said. "But you can look at the bright side. It still was a silver medal with a mistake. That leaves room for improvement next week. It keeps it exciting. The duel between the two of us might now have some more meaning."
Heil announced last week that she intends to retire after this World Cup season even though she is just 27.
"It would be nice to be an Olympian forever, but I have a lot of objectives," said Heil, who won silver at the Vancouver Olympics. "I want to be successful off my skis as well and feellike the time is now for me to start building that."
She intends to finish her degree and continue working on two philanthropic projects. The first would raise $1 million for girls around the world. The second is to raise $20 million over the next six years for Canadian athletes to compete in both summer and winter sports.
Heil still has a handful of World Cup events left this season as well as the Dual Moguls Finals on Saturday night.
"I'm not rushing anywhere. I'm just enjoying this moment," Heil said.
Deer Valley is where it all started for Heil. She was 17 when she first came to Deer Valley.
"I remember it being an impressive hill," she said.
A year later she competed in her first Olympic Games at Deer Valley, finishing out of bronze by 0.01 points.
"I was so young," Heil recalled. "I had no idea what I was in for that day. I tried to do my best. I realized I did my absolute best. I also realized that day that I wasn't prepared and didn't know what I was doing. I didn't want to feel that again."
She returned to Canada, took a year off and built her body stronger.
Though Kearney won in Vancouver last year, Heil has dominated the sport.
"She dominated me for five years," Kearney said.
Kearney admitted she may have mentally let up this week because this event doesn't court toward the overall World Cup title.
"I'm going to be refocused for the rest of the season," Kearney said. "It just keeps you hungry."
As for Heil retiring, Kearney said moguls competition will not be the same.
"We have a great rivalry," Kearney said. "It's all about competing against yourself and the entire world, but when there's a face to the competition and it's that close, it does make it exciting."
Heil said she drew inspiration from several sources.
"I was standing at the top of the course and I heard Hannah's score, and I knew I had to lay down a great run," Heil said. "For me, this is my last world championship. This is one of my last runs down the hill, so I had a great talk with my coach this week just about skiing with all of my heart, finding that passion and enjoying every turn. And that's what I feel like I did."