CANMORE – Capturing the passionate moment an athlete expresses their life's craft in front of millions of viewers is something Canmore's Kelly VanderBeek takes a lot of pride in.
With a hot mic in hand and cameras rolling, the two-time Olympian and world cup medallist in alpine, will once again be an integral part of CBC's broadcasting team at the Summer Games in Tokyo.
Like VanderBeek once experienced as an elite athlete at major sporting events speaking to journalists, describing intimate moments of the competition and the big moments that led to them, being on the other end of the microphone and celebrating Canadian athletes, has been a natural progression in her life.
"I feel like I'm representing the Maple Leaf over there," said VanderBeek. "The same way athletes are giving it their best – I go with intention to give my best and do honour to their stories and connect Canadians to their stories."
As an on-field television reporter, VanderBeek's main sports beat in Japan will be Canada's women's soccer team, featuring standouts Christine Sinclair and Kadeisha Buchanan.
VanderBeek's elated to be back reporting and to give viewers a sense of "what it's like to have your feet on the grass" next to the focused players and to witness all the biggest plays and moments starting July 21.
"Women's soccer is my focus right now, which is very exciting for me because I'm not only a fan, but I played and honestly it would have been a flip of the coin had I seen it and had I seen that women had a future in soccer, I think that might have been the sport I chose over ski racing," she said.
"Whether it chose me, I don't know, but I love soccer. I absolutely adore playing it."
Covering her sixth Games, the "one year false start" in Tokyo now officially begins July 23 and concludes Aug. 8.
VanderBeek travels to Japan about a week prior due to the earlier start for the soccer women – much to the protest of her young son being away from mum for too long – but her husband, five-time Olympic kayaker David Ford, will hold down the fort.
"It will be hard being apart for this long, it is a longer stretch because women's soccer starts a bit earlier, as well as COVID protocols and things like that," she said.
On the other hand, the photographer at heart is drawn back to covering sports in-person after a long absence.
With firsthand insight into what's on the mind of an under-pressure athlete, VanderBeek approaches interviews with a common connection and knowing "the storylines underneath the storylines" and finding authenticities in what's being shared.
The interview and discovering ways to get the best answers out of a subject is an art form in itself. As someone who's been to the big show, VanderBeek said she's more comfortable with trying to find middle ground with athletes.
"I think I've grown as a storyteller," she said. "I've grown in the craft in being a storyteller as well and the craft of being a reporter, a broadcaster of the nuance in interviews as well. I think that's where the biggest growth has come from and shift in my abilities and as well as knowing to have to focus on and be more efficient in my preparation."
Leading up to the Games, many Japanese protested the world coming to the country because of the ongoing pandemic.
Every Games has it's own vibe and threads, said VanderBeek, who for the better part of two decades has been involved as an athlete or broadcaster, and the long-awaited Tokyo Games are no different.
But the Olympic vet said there's a few common traits each shares.
"People are often surprised to hear from me that everyone hates the Olympics until they happen," said VanderBeek with a laugh. "It is a platform for protest, it is used as a platform for protest, and that's OK. It's good to bring awareness and attention to areas that need it and it's very normal and once the Olympics start the narrative changes, it shifts."
Canada's women's soccer team faces Olympic hosts Japan in their first match July 21 in Saporro. Both teams are in Group E, which includes Great Britain and Chile. From 12 nations in three groups, the top-eight advance to the Olympic quarter-finals from which winners then advance to the semifinals and then a chance to win a medal. On July 24, Canada takes on Chile and then Great Britain on July 27.