Canadian cross-country legend Brian McKeever skied one of the great races in Paralympic history on Wednesday, overcoming an early fall to win gold in the men’s visually impaired 1 km race in Sochi.
In what has to be the best performance of his Paralympic career, McKeever got tangled up near the start of the race with Russia’s Vladimir Udaltcov and fell to the snow, seemingly putting him out of the running.
But McKeever and guide Graham Nishikawa poured on the speed, overtaking Udaltcov and then fellow Russian Oleg Ponomarev for second, before reeling in Swede Zebastian Modin on the final bend of the course, finishing in a time of 3 minutes, 59.6 seconds. Modin took the silver, 1.8 seconds behind McKeever, while Ponomarev ended up winning bronze.
"I thought we were clear," McKeever told the CBC's Signa Butler after the race. "We had a decent start, we were ahead of the other guys, and is just so happened that as I pulled through he skied over my basket and stopped it so I couldn't pull it out and took me down.
"But we didn't panic. We had really good skis ... and we could tell on the first downhill that we were already making up time."
McKeever, of Canmore, Alta., also won gold in the men’s 20K visually impaired cross-country race on Monday. If he wins gold in his final cross-country event, the 10K race on Sunday, he’ll become the first Canadian Winter Paralympian to have won 10 gold medals in a career.
Regardless, his performance in the sprint on Wednesday will be talked about for a long time, a feat made even more remarkable by the fact that the shortest of cross-country disciplines leaves almost no room for error, since there's hardly any time to make up ground.
Aiding McKeever's victory were some of the worst course conditions to date at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center, slowing down the pace of the races considerably and giving the Canadian more time to catch the other racers.
The soft snow due to the warm weather has been a major theme through the first half of Paralympic competition, and it was compounded Wednesday by driving snow, making it even harder to navigate the course.
But McKeever looked in fine form despite the driving snow, finishing first in the qualification round and in his semifinal heat before the remarkable gold medal victory, putting away any doubt that a virus he caught in the lead-up to the Games would adversely affect him.
Roman Petushkov wins more gold
Chris Klebl of Canmore, Alta., qualified fifth for the semifinals of the men’s sitting classification of the discipline, but couldn’t advance to the final, finishing one spot out in fourth place in the first heat of the semis.
Two-time 2014 medallist Mark Arendz, of Springton, P.E.I., was expected to compete in the 1K but withdrew in order to rest. He races next in the 15K biathlon (standing) on Friday at 6 a.m. ET.
Roman Petushkov of Russia won his fourth gold of the Paralympics in the event, edging out teammate Grigory Murygin by 1.2 seconds. Ukraine’s Maksym Yarovyi took bronze.
Yves Bourque, of Bécancour, Que., and Sébastien Fortier of Quebec City didn’t advance to the semifinals.
In the women’s standing category, Russia’s Anna Milenina won gold ahead of Ukranian Iuliia Batenkova. Fellow Russian Alena Kaufman took bronze. Brittany Hudak of Prince Albert, Sask., was eliminated in the semifinal heats. Caroline Bisson of Gatineau, Que., pulled out of the race.
The women’s visually impaired category saw two more Russians on the podium, with Mikhalina Lysova and Elena Remizova finishing first and second. Oksana Shyshkova of the Ukraine won bronze. Robbi Weldon of Thunder Bay, Ont., advanced to the semis but was eliminated. Ottawa’s Margarita Gorbounova didn’t advance to the semifinals.
Norway’s Mariann Marthinsen won the women’s sitting category, beating Tatyana McFadden of the United States by a mere one tenth of a second. Andrea Eskau of Germany won bronze. Colette Bourgonje of Prince Albert, Sask., was eliminated in the qualification round.
In a final dominated completely by Russians, Kirill Mikhaylov won gold a mere 0.3 seconds ahead of Rushan Minnegulov. Vladislav Lekomtcev took the bronze. Louis Fortin of Fredericton was eliminated in the qualification round.