Olympic dream team

LAKE LOUISE -- Bundled up at the bottom of the Olympic Downhill course which girlfriend Kelly VanderBeek just hurtled herself down, David Ford makes a startling admission.

"You'd think that sitting in the start gate at the Olympics was the most nerve-wracking thing I could ever do," said Edmonton's four-time Olympic kayaker.

"But honestly, coming here to help Kelly do what she's doing is even harder on me because it's out of my control. She skis faster than I drive."

Reaching speeds of 117 km/h yesterday en route to a 19th place finish as top Canadian in the season's second World Cup downhill race, VanderBeek stood in the finish area content with what she describes as yet another building block on her road to Turin, Italy. Qualifying for her first Winter Games with a top-30 finish a day earlier, the 22-year-old Kitchener, Ont., product feels blessed to be able to celebrate the realization of a lifelong dream with Ford by her side.

"This is really the only race he's around so we spend all our time together," said VanderBeek, pointing out his off-season training schedule will take him to Australia soon, preventing him from watching her race until February in Turin.

"He's really committed to supporting me. There are no better words of wisdom than those coming from him. There's no agenda. He's just there to support me from a place of experience and knowledge.

"He comes with such a history of sport and we really understand each other in a lot of ways. So when he comes to these races, he's my heart and soul. He understands the emotions involved and how passionate I am."

Having met three years ago at a CODA press conference, the two hit it off immediately. With high performance athletics as their common thread, they began a long-distance relationship that quickly grew to the point where they built a house in Chilliwack, B.C., last year.

"It's a lot easier when your partner is living the same dream you are and is going through the same struggles," said Ford, 38, the 2003 World Cup whitewater slalom champ who recently committed to compete in Beijing.

"You can say the right thing at the right time to one another and that can make a big difference. I spend so much time talking about her race plan and it's nice seeing her execute it."

Sharing the same goals, dreams and lifestyles as slalom skier Thomas Grandi does with his cross-country skiing wife Sara Renner, the two Olympians understand how rare it is to savour the special times like her first Olympic berth.

"I don't think there'll be a celebration this weekend over the fact she's going to the Olympics, but a celebration of the fact she's moving in the right direction," said Ford, who finished fourth in Athens while VanderBeek trained in Chile.

"Looking beyond at 2010 she could be one of the girls that'll be on the podium and I think this is maybe the first step towards believing that's a possibility."

Training together in their basement or down the street at their local gym, Ford helped VanderBeek add a few pounds of muscle to her 5-ft. 8-in. frame as she continues trying to develop into one of Canada's top downhillers.

"I'm satisfied where I'm at to start the season," she said.

"If I keep going like I did today I know the results will come. We make mistakes -- everyone does. When you're going 120 kilometres an hour, a half foot one way or the other makes a critical difference especially in a key area of the course."

Something Ford is just going to have to get used to.