Brian McKeever has made Canadian Paralympic history.
The legendary cross-country skier won his third gold medal of the Games in his final event on Sunday, taking the crown in the men’s visually impaired 10 km race and becoming the first Canadian Winter Paralympian to win 10 gold medals in a career.
It wasn’t as dramatic as the men’s 1K sprint of Wednesday, but it was still another come-from-behind win for McKeever in the 10K. The Canmore, Alta., native trailed Russian rival Stanislav Chokhlaev until the final kilometre of the race, made a furious dash to the finish and overcame an eight-second deficit for the victory.
"This was really special because we're able to do it as a team,” McKeever said, referring to himself and guides Erik Carleton and Graham Nishikawa. “The three of us have had just a fantastic year of training, four really good years of training. These guys are fantastic."
McKeever ended up winning in a time of 23 minutes 18.1 seconds, seven seconds ahead of Chokhlaev in the silver medal spot.
As in the 20K, McKeever used both Carleton and Nishikawa during the 10 km race. In the 20K, illness hampered Carleton’s stamina, which warranted the midway switch. On Sunday, it was because a new challenge reared its ugly head at the Laura Cross-country Ski centre, in a week of challenging course conditions: heavy winds.
"Today it ended up being important because of the wind,” McKeever said. “Anybody who had to ski out there on their own, it would be very difficult to keep up the effort."
France’s Thomas Clarion won the bronze, well back of the pair with a time of 24:14.9.
Matches Vancouver total
Sochi was another golden Games for McKeever, who won gold medals in three of the four events he competed in, and was only one spot away from a podium finish in the cross-country relay with teammate Chris Klebl.
The 10K victory Sunday earned him a sweep of the individual cross-country competitions in the visually impaired category, a feat he also accomplished in the Vancouver 2010 Games.
His victory in the 1K sprint in Sochi will be talked about for years to come, as he overcame a fall at the start of the race to dramatically win gold, overtaking Swede Zebastian Modin on the final bend to win it. He was more dominant in the 20K race, as he took that title by over one minute, again ahead of Chokhlaev.
The 10 gold medals McKeever owns matches a feat accomplished only by Canadian Summer Paralympians Chantal Petitclerc, Michael Edgson and Timothy McIsaac.
McKeever now has 13 medals in his Paralympic career, and he may well add to that total in 2018. Though he’ll be 38 by the time the Paralympics in South Korea roll along, he hasn’t ruled out competing in Pyeongchang if he’s able.
"We're going to leave the door open,” he said. “We're getting a little long in the tooth but now is not the time to make those decisions. We're still having fun, we've never been to Korea, so we'll take it one day at a time."
(With files from the Paralympic News Service)