'The only reason I'm in this sport'Kayak paddler David Ford is still competing in order to to try for a medal in Athens and thwart the unkind fates of past Olympic Games
By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
David Ford has been one of the most successful and uncelebrated athletes in Canadian sports history. And it's no major mystery to him. He's been an Olympic bust.
He was a bust in Barcelona. He was a bust in Atlanta. He was an even bigger bust in Sydney.
This time it's "Olympics or bust" in Athens.
"Athens is everything. It's huge. It's the only reason I'm still in the sport," says the Edmonton white-water kayak competitor, who has won three of the first four World Cup races of the season and finished second in the other.
"I want an Olympic medal. More than that, I want a performance at the Olympics I can be happy with," says the slalom paddler, who in 1999 became the first Canadian and the first non-European to ever win a world championship in the sport.
Ford has had stuff happen every time he has gone to the Olympics.
A dozen years ago, I made the four-hour trip to Seu d'Urgell in Spain and hadn't been there four minutes when he came down and clipped the second gate on the course.
A short interview and four-hour return trip later and there was a message waiting on the Olympic e-mail system for me.
"Thanks for coming out to our race. Sorry I didn't live up to the story I'd painted for you," wrote the kid who had won his first World Cup race, the final event prior to heading to the Olympics.
He finished 15th.
Then there was Atlanta, where he missed a gate and finished 15th.
"I had laser eye surgery after what happened to me at the Olympics in 1996," he said. "I could see the gates for a change. After touching the gate in Barcelona and missing the gate in Atlanta, I decided vision might be an issue. I decided to open my eyes."
Ford went to Sydney as the world champion. And he was out before I took the trip. He didn't even make the final.
"The Olympics happened," he explained by cellphone. "The Olympics happened all over again. I blew it."
Looking back, Ford says Sydney is the one that hurt the most. "If I made that run 100 times, I'd do that once. And I picked the Olympics to do it."
So, what's going to make it different this time?
Consistency and an inordinate amount of time training on the Olympic course which he believes has designed specifically for him.
"Consistency is what I wanted to get," he says. "I wanted to get to the Olympics this time needing to have an everyday sort of performance instead of a very special performance.
He won the last World Cup race going into Barcelona but had no real base of results before that. And until the last couple of years, his career has been a real roller-coaster, with an equal number of highs and lows but no straight lines on the chart.
"To have three firsts and a second to start the season in Australia is the kind of consistency I've been looking to achieve."
Keep it going to Athens and then get it done on the day - that's the plan.
This Olympics will have a different look and feel to it than the others for Ford.
Stuck out at a venue in the middle of nowhere at the previous Olympics, Ford will stay in the actual Olympic Village and compete at a venue which is located with baseball, softball and field hockey near the old airport in Athens.
"I've only had four days on it to this point, but we have a World Cup race in April and all of June to train on the course. It's amazing. It's mind-blowing. It makes the one in Australia look like a kiddy park. And it was incredible.
"The bar has been raised so high," he said of the man-made facility.
"It's right beside the ocean, and we'll be using salt water, which is a first. "It ups the degree of difficulty and, I believe, played into my favour. It favours the larger, stronger paddlers. I felt pretty confident on it."
One thing he knows for sure: If the Olympic curse bites him again, it can't be any worse than finishing 22nd in Sydney.
"We've gone from a field of 170 at the world championships last year to 22 for the Olympics. The field has really been limited. Only the best are going to be there."
David Ford's road to the Olympics:
- April: Athens Olympic course World Cup, two weeks training
- May: Ten days at home, World Cup events in Spain and Italy
- June: In Athens training on Olympic course
- July: World Cups in Prague and Munich, 10 days back home