Road to Turin

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

After qualifying on the weekend for her first Winter Games, Kelly VanderBeek was asked what came to mind as she pictured herself atop the Olympic mountain.

"Thomas Grandi," said the 22-year-old Kitchener, Ont., speedster, referring to the undisputed leader of Canada's alpine ski team.

"When Thomas won last year, there were a lot of pictures of him pumping his fist in the air and celebrating. It's inspiring. The emotions he (displayed) showed so much passion and commitment and love for the sport. I often have an image of what he looked like winning when I'm in the gate."

Born in Bolzano, Italy, but raised in Canmore, Grandi's impact on a young, inexperienced team is as powerful as the legs he used last year to become Canada's first and only man to win a World Cup technical event.

A three-time Olympian who essentially broke through last season with back-to-back giant-slalom wins, the 32-year-old Grandi is aiming to wrap up his career with a homecoming of sorts in Turin, Italy.

"Following his two wins last year, his declared intention is to podium and I'm not surprised," said Canadian alpine ski team (CAST) president Ken Read, whose goal is to have at least one of his racers medal at the 2006 Games. "We have six athletes who have been on the podium -- Genevieve Simard, Emily Brydon, Allison Forsyth, Francois Bourque, Erik Guay and Thomas -- and Thomas has every intention of getting back there in (Turin)."

The world's third-ranked slalom skier last season, the senior member of CAST is sure to enter the Games as one of the country's highest-profile athletes because of his experience, personality and the fact he is married to Olympic cross-country skier Sara Renner.

"These Olympics have been the guiding light for both of us and neither of us has planned much after that," said Grandi, who recently toured the Olympic venues with Renner.

"The storybook ending is obviously gold medals."

With nine top-10 finishes last season as well as a ninth to open this season, Grandi is thankful he didn't make good on threats to retire after the Salt Lake Games where he finished 12th in the giant slalom and 16th in the slalom.

"Last year everything came together -- I was more confident, healthy, I had good coaching, good equipment, good direction from the top of our team and happy being married," Grandi said.

"There are so many pieces of the puzzle that have to fall into place."

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MEDAL CHANCES

Despite a slow start this season, his wins last year proved he's one of the sport's elite.

Prediction: Bronze

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CANADA'S TEAM

ERIK GUAY

Mont Tremblant, Que., DH, SG

Bouncing back from knee surgery to rank 14th in downhill and 15th in super-G last year, Guay, 24, has seven top-10 results in his young career, including a super-G silver last week.

2005-06 World Cup best finish -- 2nd in SG.

World rank -- 4th in SG, 7th overall.

FRANCOIS BOURQUE

New Richmond, Que./GS, SG, DH

The Canadian giant slalom champ became the third-youngest male ever to podium on the World Cup with a super-G bronze last year. Bourque, 21, could be hampered by the fact he has never raced on the Olympic course in Sestriere before.

2005-06 World Cup best finish -- 5th in GS

World rank -- 4th in GS, 11th overall.

EMILY BRYDON

Fernie, B.C./DH, SG, GS

A junior world star who has battled injuries throughout her career, Brydon, 25, was the world's third-ranked skier in the combined event last year. Having stepped on the World Cup podium once (2003), Brydon struggles with consistency.

2005-06 World Cup best finish -- 35

World rank -- N/A.

GENEVIEVE SIMARD

Val-Morin, Que./SG, GS

Seventh in the Olympic combined event in 2002 despite being just 21, Simard, 25, has since picked up World Cup medals of all colours. She is off to a solid start.

2005-06 World Cup best finish --9th.

World rank -- 9th GS, 17th overall.

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ONE TO WATCH

THE FAVOURITE IN ALPINE SKIING

BODE MILLER, U.S.

The defending all-around champ was a two-time Olympic silver medallist in Salt Lake City and won gold in downhill and super-G at last year's Worlds. He already has three podiums this year.

2005-06 World Cup best finish -- 1st in GS

World rank -- 1st in GS, 3rd overall

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WORLD RANKINGS

MEN'S ALPINE SKIING

Athlete Country

1. Aksel-Lund Svindal Norway

2. Daron Rahlves USA

3. Bode Miller USA

4. Hermann Maier Austria

5. Fritz Strobl Austria

6. Kjetil Andre Aamodt Norway

7. Erik Guay Canada

8. Hannes Reichelt Austria

9. Benjamin Raich Austria

10. Marco Buechel Liechtenstein

Canadians: Francois Bourque (11th),

Thomas Grandi (37th).


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