While most of the kids around him bypassed skis for snowboards, Tommy Ford stayed old-school and dedicated himself to becoming one of the world’s elite downhill racers.
In fact, his parents put him on skis so young — at age 2 — it seemed only natural.
“I don’t even remember starting skiing,” he said. “Nothing else really came into my mind. I’ve boarded once in my whole life.”
Over the past two years, he progressed quickly. Now 20, Ford will race in the Vancouver Games as the second-youngest member of the U.S. ski team. He was born seven days before Alpine teammate Nolan Kasper.
He was in Austria training for a final World Cup event when he got the news he had been selected.
“Great, now I’m going to go train tomorrow,” he said was his reaction, almost nonchalantly, before getting back to work.
“I’ve always thought he was a pretty phenomenal skier. He’s going to be one of our top guys within the next couple years,” fellow U.S. team member Andrew Weibrecht said. “Although he was considered a long shot (to make the Olympic team), I’m not surprised that he was able to get in there and score World Cup points this year and earn a spot on the team.”
Ford grew up in Bend, a high-desert city in central Oregon that sits in the shadow of Mt. Bachelor. It was also the hometown of Christina “Kiki” Cutter, a 1968 Olympian and the first American, male or female, to win a World Cup Race.
Ford, born to parents who were competitive skiers and coaches, displayed talent as a toddler and by 10 he was competing in mini-World Cup events on Bachelor.
“We had poles, it was full-on serious,” he maintains with a laugh.
By eighth grade Ford had to make a decision: soccer or the slopes. He couldn’t do both because of the travel involved with competitive skiing. He was already addicted to the speed and the thrill.
Although he probably won’t medal in Vancouver — he was considered a longshot just to make the team — he is clearly one of the U.S. team’s best and brightest for the future when the likes of Bode Miller and Ted Ligety move on.
Last season Ford won a slalom silver medal at the FIS Alpine Junior World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Then he silvered in the giant slalom silver at the U.S. Alpine Championships.
He trained with the World Cup team over the summer, then made his debut in the giant slalom at Soelden, Austria, in October. He won his first World Cup points with a 24th-place finish in Alta Badia, Italy in December.
In early January, Ford was subjected to one of those strange teaching moments that rookies have.
At a World Cup event in Adeloboden, Switzerland, Ford didn’t eat properly before a run, which was then delayed by horrendous conditions that would eventually stop competition for the day. As a result, his blood sugar dropped and he went hyperglycemic.
“You heard about that, huh?” Ford laughed sheepishly.
He didn’t notice it at first, charging down his run. But then he hit a wall, energy-wise, and became weak. At the end of the race he was shaky and lightheaded.
The next day, he said he felt hungover.
“I think it helped me grow a lot,” he said. “It happened early in my career. Now I can feel when my energy’s dropping. I’m more attuned to it. I know that I have to remember to eat enough.”
None of his colleagues gave him a hard time, he said. They’d been there.
“To actually feel it, it’s humbling,” he said.
In fact, Ford’s teammates have nothing but praise for the up-and-comer.
“Just watching him ski, I was like, ’Wow, this kid is good.’ And he really hasn’t skied to his potential in the World Cup, and when he does, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s on a podium because he is such a fast, strong, solid skier,” Steven Nyman said.
Or maybe a future Olympic podium.
AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.