Mckeever ghts through low ebb to win medal No. 14

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - Sports -

Medal No. 14 was both his­toric and in­cred­i­bly hard.

When Brian Mckeever looks back at the race that made him Canada’s most dec­o­rated Win­ter Par­a­lympian, he’ll re­mem­ber it as one of his most dif­fi­cult.

The vis­ually im­paired cross­coun­try skier opened the Pyeongchang Par­a­lympics with a gold medal in the 20-kilo­me­tre event on Mon­day, his 11th Par­a­lympic gold medal and 14th over­all.

And in the mo­ments af­ter­ward, the 38-year-old from Can­more, Alta., talked about the lung-bust­ing fi­nal few kilo­me­tres.

“That one was hard. That one was re­ally hard,’’ Mckeever said. “I think we had a plan to ski com­fort­ably into it and try and build to­wards the end, and I think I built too much in the mid­dle.

“I al­most un­did it be­cause the last lap was very hard to keep the pace, but good enough in the mid­dle that we built a nice lead and then we were able to hang on. But it was touch and go there at the end.”

Mckeever passed the late Lana Spre­e­man, an alpine skier who cap­tured 13 Par­a­lympic medals be­tween 1980 and ’94.

Mckeever, who car­ried Canada’s flag into Fri­day’s open­ing cer­e­monies, crossed in a time of 46 min­utes 2.4 sec­onds with guides Gra­ham Nishikawa and Rus­sell Kennedy. The duo took turns guid­ing Mckeever af­ter each loop, a two-guide tac­tic the Cana­dian first im­ple­mented four years ago in Sochi.

“They did an awe­some job to­day,’’ Mckeever said on his guides. “It was su­per windy out there, so to be able to tuck in be­hind these big boys is im­por­tant for me to get that rest a bit. They pushed hard, they skied re­ally well, and they took care of me the whole way.

“But it was hard stay­ing with these boys .... Both Russ and Gra­ham did such a good job to­day that I was hurt­ing by the end, so it was thanks to them that we got this done.’’

Nishikawa, a 34-year-old from White­horse, shrugged off Mckeever’s praise.

“He al­ways gives us too much props,’’ he said. “He’s so fast, and we have to drive a re­ally hard pace and into the wind, and so we’re try­ing to give her as hard as we can. But we know he’s al­ways go­ing to keep up. He’s Brian.’’

Kennedy, who com­peted for Canada in the sprint at the Olympics last month, is a rookie guide. He took over for Nishikawa on the sec­ond lap.

“I just had to re­mem­ber that Brian has done 10K and I haven’t, so that’s learn­ing a bit, of how hard to go and just keep­ing track of him,’’ Kennedy said. “But he’s so fit that it’s not re­ally a prob­lem.’’

Yury Holub was sec­ond in

47:07.5, while Thomas Clar­ion of France took the bronze in


Mckeever suf­fers from Star­gardt’s dis­ease, an in­her­ited con­di­tion of mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion that also claimed his fa­ther’s vi­sion. He started to lose his eye­sight at the age of 19. The dis­ease has robbed him of his cen­tral vi­sion, but he still has

100 per-cent pe­riph­eral vi­sion — he likes to tell peo­ple he can see the dough­nut, not the Tim­bit.

The skier should add to his medal to­tal in Pyeongchang, as the 20K was just his first of three events.

We were able to hang on. But it was touch and go there at the end.


Brian Mckeever, left, and his guide Gra­ham Nishikawa com­pete in the men’s cross coun­try 20K free, vis­ually im­paired event in Pyeongchang on Mon­day.

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