McKeever skis to Canada’s first gold at Games
Blind cross-country star 42 seconds ahead of the field in 20-km race
March 15, 2010
WHISTLER, B.C.–Brian McKeever has started moving on.
Two weeks after a coaching decision prevented him from becoming the first winter sports athlete to compete at both the Olympics and Paralympics, the legally blind cross-country skier from Canmore, Alta., roared to victory Monday in the 20-kilometre race with older brother Robin as his guide.
It was Canada’s first Paralympics gold medal won on home snow.
“This certainly makes it a lot easier,” McKeever said in reference to the Olympic snub on the eve of the final day of competition last month.
“We’re never going to forget what happened, but this helps us to move on.”
For the McKeevers, competing in their third Paralympics, it was their eighth medal and fifth gold. They won silver in the 20-km race at both Turin, Italy, four years ago and Salt Lake City in 2002.
“That was the one we were waiting to win,” the 30-year-old Brian McKeever said. “That’s the one we really wanted.”
Same goes for most of the few thousand fans crowded onto the grandstand in the stadium at Whistler Paralympic Park.
Their cheers grew louder as a huge video board from out on the course showed the McKeever brothers opening up a lead on their competition. But as the pair approached the stadium on their final lap of the 5-kilometre circuit, the public address announcer asked them to turn down the volume and instead wave their hands in celebration so as not to disrupt the communication between the blind skiers and their guides.
McKeever’s winning time was 51 minutes, 14.7 seconds and he finished nearly 42 seconds ahead of silver medallist Nikolay Polukhin of Russia.
“It means that the laws of natural justice are prevailing and things are unfolding the way they should,” John Furlong, chief executive officer of VANOC, told reporters near the finish line.
“Given what happened during the Olympic Games, it couldn’t fall to a more worthy person than him to be the first gold medallist at the Paralympic Games for us.
“He’s a remarkable young fellow and for him to do it with his brother is the perfect story.”
McKeever’s victory was the highlight of another solid day of results for Canadians at the 10th Winter Paralympics, which continue through Sunday.
Lauren Woolstencroft of North Vancouver won the women’s slalom (standing) while Karolina Wisniewska of Vancouver won bronze in the same event.
For Woolstencroft, who was born missing both legs below the knee and her left arm below the elbow, it was her sixth medal and fourth gold in three appearances at the Paralympics.
McKeever, who has less than 10 per cent vision, all of it peripheral, has Stargardt’s disease, an inherited form of macular degeneration that also claimed his dad’s sight. In January, he made history by being selected to the Canadian Olympic cross-country team and was expected to race in the 50-km event.
But less than 48 hours before the race, the Canadian coaching staff chose to sit him out in favour of four other skiers in a decision McKeever called “crushing.” He likened that news to the day doctors told him he would lose his eyesight.
After being passed over for the Olympic start, McKeever said he was overwhelmed by people sending emails and stopping him on the street to express admiration and disappointment.
“It’s just fun to be able to give back to the Canadian fans who have been so supportive of us,” he told reporters after the race, his second of five at these Games.
McKeever added, “I want another shot” at competing in the Winter Olympics, which will be held in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.
The McKeevers, whose maternal grandparents were Japanese-Canadians who ended up being sent to an internment camp during the Second World War, said Monday that they are proud of their heritage and their accomplishments, but they still feel there’s a lot of work to be done here.
Still battling colds, they say they’re getting stronger with each day.
Robin McKeever, who is six years older and competed in the 1998 Olympics at Nagano, Japan, called Monday’s win “extremely satisfying” because they had been so close to winning gold in the event in the past two Paralympics.
“We’re just lucky with the weather that alpine (skiing) got cancelled (Saturday) or this probably wouldn’t be the first Canadian gold medal,” joked Robin McKeever, who is also serves in a coaching capacity with the Canadian para-nordic team.
Brian McKeever’s race attracted the most media in three days of cross-country ski competition so far as he has become the story of these Games.
“As much as it would be great if everyone could get this attention, at least the attention is here at the Paralympics,” McKeever said. “This is what we want.
“We wanted to bridge the gap between the Olympics and Paralympics and that’s what we’re doing. That’s going to help the Paralympic movement to grow and that’s going to help the competition to get stronger.”