Paralympics News·Preview

Brian McKeever going for triple gold in Sochi in men's 10K

Brian McKeever, the cross-country skier, will make history if he can win the men's 10-kilometre race at the Sochi Paralympics on Sunday, the last day of the 2014 Games.

'It would be nice' to win more golds, cross-country skier says

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      Brian McKeever has already accomplished some spectacular feats at the Sochi Paralympics. But spectacular isn’t what the cross-country skier is after.

      First, the cross-country skier won Canada’s first gold medal with a stunning come-from-behind victory in the men’s visually impaired 20-kilometre race on Monday.

      Next, he won another gold in what may be remembered as one of the most jaw-dropping comebacks at these Games — or in sport generally.

      Then came word that he was one of two Canadians shortlisted for the prestigious Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award for outstanding performance and overcoming adversity, presented at every Paralympic Games. (He did not win.)

      One might think that would be enough for a nine-day stretch. But it’s not.

      On Sunday, McKeever will race the men’s 10K, one of the final events of the 2014 Games. If he wins, he will become the first Canadian winter Paralympian to win 10 gold medals, a feat accomplished so far only by summer Paralympians.

      He will also become the first Canadian winter Paralympian to repeat as gold medallist in three events.

      Close calls in early races

      “I’ve never really thought about the wins or the results,” McKeever, 34, told CBC Sports. “It’s more about a self-satisfaction of trying to push my own level. It’s more about an inward feeling of ‘I did everything that I could.’

      “If I hit the finish line and say that was the best result I could have today, then that’s a victory for me regardless of where the placement might be.”

      He does everything like a world-class skier.- Jack Sasseville, former Olympic cross-country ski coach

      When you’re as good as McKeever, however, the only competition might, in fact, be yourself.

      “He does everything well,” said Jack Sasseville, who coached the Canadian cross-country ski team from 1979 to 1992, a four-time Olympic team coach and is a longtime nordic analyst for CBC Sports.

      “He does everything like a world-class skier. He’s got great technique, he’s physiologically one of the best athletes in the world, he’s got great mental skills and he has good tactics. He can think his way around the course.”

      Vision loss ongoing

      But watching both of McKeever’s Sochi races, it wasn’t immediately clear that McKeever, 34, would win them, let alone medal in them.

      In the 20K, he and his first guide Erik Carleton trailed in fourth place for the first half of the race, lagging behind the strong Russian skiers more than 10 years his junior. He switched guides at the halfway mark and powered through, overcoming the field and beating them by more than a minute.

      The 1K race was even more of a nail-biter.

      About 200 metres into the race, a Russia skier skied over McKeever's pole. McKeever tripped and fell to the ground, then got up, got racing and won, by more than a second, with a time of just three minutes 59.6 seconds.

      McKeever was 19 when he was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a degenerative loss of central vision. He has between five and 10 per cent of vision left, and continues to "lose a little bit over the years."

      "It's slowly degenerating and I don't notice the difference," he told CBC's As It Happens. "I don't even see it as being a disability. It's just another struggle to get beyond, and everybody has those."

      Sizing up the competition, it will most likely be Sweden’s Zebastian Modin or Russia’s Stanislav Chokhlaev that puts an end to McKeever’s dominance on the Paralympic stage.

      Modin, 19, is participating in his second Winter Games. He won bronze in the 20K and silver in the 1K. Chokhlaev, 24, won silver in the 20K and bronze in the 15K biathlon.  

      "It would be nice," McKeever said Wednesday, of winning more golds. "But it's hard to expect that stuff. The Paralympics are at such a high level now that it is very difficult to win these."

      The men’s 10km free takes place Sunday at 10:20 ET (streaming live on cbc.ca/paralympics.) 

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