Brian McKeever thinks Canada can be a 'superpower' in cross-country

Brian McKeever has done just about everything possible in para nordic skiing. While Canada's most decorated Winter Paralympian isn't finished competing yet, he's already excited about what the next generation of Canadians has to offer.

15-time Paralympic medallist excited about next generation

Canadian Paralympic legend Brian McKeever is excited by the potential of the country's next generation of para nordic skiers. (Thomas Lovelock/IOC Handout via EPA)

Brian McKeever is the unofficial Google search engine for everything cross-country skiing.

Want to discuss waxing? Ski or boot selection? Cold or flu prevention before big events? No matter the subject, McKeever is your man.

"You would be hard-pressed to find someone else in Canada so keen on the sport of nordic skiing," says Devon Kershaw, a four-time Olympian who trained for years alongside McKeever. "He's changed his technique countless times, much like Tiger Woods refines and rejigs his swing."

"He spends countless hours thinking about training, technique and most conversations with him drift back to that topic. That or great coffee, which seems to be something many of us endurance athletes have a passion for."

After downing his morning coffee — brewed with beans brought from Calgary — McKeever cruised to his second gold medal of the 2018 Winter Paralympics Tuesday, winning the men's visually impaired 1.5-kilometre classic sprint.

McKeever won gold in the men's 1.5km cross-country visually impaired sprint. It's his second gold medal in Pyeongchang and 12th overall in his career. 5:03

With Russell Kennedy as his guide, McKeever cleanly beat Sweden's Zebastian Modin (silver) and Norwegian Eirik Bye (bronze) to successfully defend his title.

His career Paralympic medal total: 12 gold, two silver and one bronze — the most ever for a Canadian Winter Paralympian.

Medal haul for Canadian skiers

After his latest triumph, the 38-year-old McKeever sounded like a senior citizen who got out of bed too quickly with a cranky back.

"I believe there might have been a four-letter expletive and an owww," says McKeever, who carried the flag for Canada at the opening ceremonies. "I don't like these sprints at all. Maybe when I was in my early 20s. But the older I get, the harder this is."

After catching his breath  — and heaping praise on his wax technicians —  McKeever gushed about the performance of his fellow Canadians on a day where the mercury flirted with 20 C at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre.

The next generation — featuring some of the kids who grew up idolizing McKeever — has arrived in Pyeongchang.

On Tuesday alone, Mark Arendz, of Hartsville, P.E.I., won bronze in the men's 1.5 km standing cross-country sprint while 17-year-old Natalie Wilkie, of Salmon Arm, B.C., claimed bronze in the women's 1.5 km standing sprint.

Mark Arendz of Hartsville, P.E.I. was tongue-tied after claiming his third medal of the 2018 Paralympics, this one a photo-finish tie for bronze in the men's 1.5-kilometre cross-country sprint standing final. 0:59

Wilkie finished just in front of fourth-place Canadian Emily Young, of North Vancouver, B.C.; Collin Cameron, of Sudbury, Ont., just missed out on a medal in a four-way battle to the finish in the men's 1.1-km sitting cross-country sprint.

"I would say we are a future superpower," says McKeever, whose older brother Robin is the head coach of the team.

"It's really exciting for me to watch and see something that I've been part of growing."

To Kershaw, McKeever has been much more than just a part of growing the para nordic movement in Canada.

"Brian has been a pioneer," Kershaw says. "His dominance is unparalleled. But it's the program that he's helped build that is a fantastic legacy."

'It's amazing what he can do'

Legally blind, McKeever relies on the roughly 10 per cent of his vision that remains — all of it peripheral — along with prompts from his guides.

"The fact that his sight is so compromised — it's amazing what he can do with so little," Kershaw says. "His balance, his technique, his 'feel' for the snow is something I have always been in utter awe of. That is a talent that sets him apart, there's no question."

McKeever is on pace to sweep the men's individual races in Pyeongchang and can complete the triple-treble with gold in the men's 10 km event.

On race day, despite his protestations to the contrary, he makes everything look easy even against guys nearly 20 years his junior.

"He works incredibly hard," Kershaw says. "As the years go by, your body takes longer to recover. Life has a way of throwing distractions your way as you get more and more responsibilities and age waits for no man or woman. Yet, Brian is constantly searching for ways to improve.

"He is inspirational on many levels but does it with a very Canadian and understated vibe. So, like other sporting greats this country has produced, he will take his place in Canadian sports history — a place he unequivocally deserves."


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