Brian McKeever won Canada’s first gold medal of the 2014 Paralympics, taking the title in the men’s 20 km visually impaired cross-country race on Monday.
Led by guides Erik Carleton and Graham Nishikawa, McKeever, of Canmore, Alta., set a furious pace in the final half of the race and ended up cruising to gold, finishing more than one minute ahead of Russia’s Stanislav Chokhlaev in a time of 52 minutes, 37 seconds.0
“It was pretty cool,” he told CBC. “There’s been a couple other shots at it. Mark Arendz almost did it in the biathlon and that set the tone for us. It was great to have a young guy step up, we’ve had great team spirit and it’s really boosted us today.”
Chokhlaev finished second behind McKeever in the World Cup rankings this season and crossed the line in 53:43.3, well ahead of bronze medallist Zebastian Modin of Sweden, who was nearly four minutes off McKeever’s lead time.
There was some concern that McKeever would be hampered by a virus he caught in the lead-up to Sochi, which forced him to pull out of the men’s 7.5 km visually impaired biathlon on Saturday. McKeever was as low as fourth before he made his move halfway through the race.
“We had a plan to start conservatively," he said. "We’ve been so sick the last week. We didn’t know where we were at, so Eric and I started out comfortably, and we started getting the splits that said were well back. We said we'd better start picking this up and limit the losses for now.”
McKeever's team opted to use two guides in the race instead of the usual one skier, due to the conditions and health issues Carleton was facing. It turned out to be the right move.
"They just skied so well and paced it so well just to get me there," McKeever said. "I wouldn’t have been able to do it on my own.”
It’s the eighth gold medal of McKeever’s storied career, and 11th overall.
If McKeever can score victories in two other races at the Paralympics, he’ll become the first Canadian Winter Paralympian with at least 10 gold medals. Chantal Petitclerc, Michael Edgson and Timothy McIsaac have all completed the feat in the Summer Games.
Minnegulov takes standing 20 km title
Russia’s Rushan Minnegulov won gold in the men’s standing 20 km race, adding the host country’s impressive early medal haul in the nordic disciplines at the Paralympics.
Minnegulov finished in a time of 55:57.3, over 30 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Ilkka Tuomisto of Finland. Russian teammate Vladislav Lekomtcev won bronze.
Helene Ripa of Sweden won the women’s standing 15 km cross-country race, finishing in a time of 49:49.2. Iuliia Batenkova of the Ukraine was second, a mere 3.9 seconds behind. Anna Milenina of Russia took bronze. Brittany Hudak of Prince Albert, Sask., was 10th.
In the women’s 15 km visually impaired race, two Russians finished 1-2, adding the host country’s impressive early medal haul in the nordic disciplines at the Paralympics. Elena Remizova won in a time of 49:10.2, while teammate Mikhalina Lysova was second, 1:37.3 back. Yadviha Skorabahataya of Belarus won bronze. Ottawa’s Margarita Gorbounova finished in fourth.
There was more Russian gold in the men’s standing 20 km race, with Rushan Minnegulov taking the title in a time of 55:57.3, over 30 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Ilkka Tuomisto of Finland. Russian teammate Vladislav Lekomtcev won bronze.