TV dream becomes reality for Belgians

Eva Willemarck and Elfje Willemsen will take reality TV to new extremes on Tuesday when they accelerate down Whistler's twisting ice track as Belgium's first women's Olympic bobsleigh team.


They came through an audition two and a half years ago for production company Canvas who hit on the novel idea of forming a Belgian bobsleigh team from scratch, then filming their progress as they attempted to qualify for the Vancouver Games.

So far the experiment has gone better than anyone expected.

"They were searching for athletes who wanted to try something new," brakewoman Willemarck said.

"In track and field I never went to the Olympics but it was always my dream to do it."

Willemsen, the athlete at the controls, said the idea of actually reaching an Olympic standard in less than three years had seemed wildly optimistic at the time.

"When they said the goal was the Olympics, we said 'no it's not going to happen'. But every year was better than expected."

Willemsen, who piloted the Belgian sled to a respectable 14th at a World Cup race in Winterberg, Germany, just before Christmas, recalls her first time down a track.

"I wanted to jump out at curve seven," she said. "It just went faster and faster and faster. My head was shaking and I was just wondering how to drive this thing," she said.

The tight-knit bobsleigh community have rallied round the Olympic rookies who have qualified by right and Latvia's Janis Minins even sold them one of his old two-man sleds.

"He's our god," Willemsen said. "He knew we didn't have a very good sled and he wanted to help."

The death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili and the subsequent debate on the safety of the 90mph Whistler track has added some extra drama to the unlikely Belgian story.

"It's a very difficult track and the first time I was scared but after a while it started to get fun," Willemsen, who along with her team mate will be trailed throughout the Olympics by a camera crew. "Now I'm not scared any more."

While some may question the merits of the programme, Willemsen said it was nothing like Big Brother.

"It's not actually reality, reality," she said. "It's a science documentary. Without the programme we wouldn't even be here."

Follow the Winter Olympics 24/7 on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and EurosportHD (Sky 412). British Eurosport channels are streamed online via the Eurosport Player.

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