Sports

McKeever hoping Paralympics ease Olympic pain

Legally blind skier Brian McKeever hopes a solid performance at the Paralympic Games will help ease the disappointment he still feels over being denied an opportunity to compete at the Olympics.

Legally blind skier Brian McKeever hopes a solid performance at the Paralympic Games will help ease the disappointment he still feels over being denied an opportunity to compete at the Olympics.

"The let down from last week is still fresh," McKeever said Thursday as he prepared for this weekend's opening of the Paralympics. "We are excited about the Paralympics. This is a new day.

"That's in the past. We are looking forward to getting out there."

McKeever and his brother Robin, who acts as his guide, drew a crowd similar to rock stars at an afternoon news conference. About 30 reporters, several foreign, crushed around them. There was the bright glare of television lights and the click of cameras.

McKeever, 30, of Canmore, Alta., has Stargaard's disease which reduces his central vision. Racing with about 10 per cent vision, he has won seven medals (four gold, two silver, one bronze) in his two previous Paralympics.

In January, McKeever qualified for the Canadian cross-country ski team going to the Vancouver Olympics. That made him the first winter Paralympic athlete to be selected for a Canadian Olympic team.

But the emotional high McKeever rode into the Games ended in a stomach-turning crash when the coaching staff decided to use four other skiers in the event he had qualified for, the gruelling 50-kilometre race.

Devon Kershaw of Canmore finished fifth in the race, just 1.6 seconds out of a gold medal. George Grey of Rossland, B.C., was 18th; Alex Harvey of St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., 22nd; and Ivan Babikov of Canmore, 33rd.

Fresh wound

The wound of not skiing at the Olympics has not totally healed.

"I keep saying it hurts as much as the day I was told I was going to lose my eyesight," McKeever said. "That's how big it was for me. It was huge, crushing.

"But I got over the eyes. I will get over this."

He admits taking some extra motivation into the Paralympics.

"This is our chance to compete," McKeever said. "We have guaranteed starts. We are going to go full bore.

"It's about going and doing what we can. If we can cross the line, look each other in the face and say 'that's the best we had,' then we are going to take it."

The Paralympics officially open Friday. The ceremonies will be held at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver, the same venue that hosted both the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies.

Competition begins Saturday with McKeever competing in the biathlon, which involved cross-country skiing and target shooting.

For the shooting, the visually impaired use a rifle that creates different tones when it's aimed exactly at the bull's-eye target.

The Paralympics will attract 1,350 athletes and team officials from 44 countries. They end March 21 with the closing ceremonies in Whistler.

McKeever won two gold, a silver and a bronze medal at the 2006 Turin Paralympic Games. He plans to compete in five events this year.

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