Winter Sports

Canada brings home bronze in mixed cross-country relay at Paralympics

A strong Canadian cross-country team came together to earn bronze in the mixed relay on Sunday at the Beijing Paralympics.

McKeever, Hudak miss out on podium in open relay event

Canada's Collin Cameron, Mark Arendz, Emily Young and Natalie Wilkie celebrate together after combining to earn bronze in the mixed cross-country relay on Sunday at the Beijing Paralympics. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

A strong Canadian cross-country team came together to earn bronze in the mixed relay on Sunday at the Beijing Paralympics.

Collin Cameron, Emily Young, Mark Arendz and Natalie Wilkie combined to cross the finish line in the 4x2.5-kilometre in 27 minutes 0.6 seconds to reach the podium.

"We threw everything down there today and we're on the podium, as a team, as a family, and it's freaking awesome," Cameron said.

The U.S. won gold in 25:59.3 while China took silver at 26:25.3. Ukraine, the reigning champions and pre-race favourites, placed 20 seconds behind Canada in fourth.

WATCH | Canada grabs bronze in mixed relay cross-country event:

Of the Canadian quartet, Young was the only one without a medal in China.

"It's been an emotional roller-coaster leading up to this. Even the past 10 days I haven't had [such an] encouraging Games as I'd have liked, but it's nice to join these guys and know we are where we're supposed to be," Young said.

It was the fourth medal in China for standing skiers Arendz and Wilkie. The former added to the full set of medals he'd already collected in individual races while the latter completed the set herself after previously winning two golds and one silver.

"I'm thrilled, this is the best. It's special to do it with these three," Cameron said. "They are some of my best friends in the world and to go out here and share this together with them is perfect."

Canada's medal total now sits at 24 in Beijing, with a 25th guaranteed at the conclusion of the Para ice hockey final. It's the second-highest total ever for the country, only behind the 28 won at PyeongChang 2018.

McKeever, Hudak fall shy of podium

Meanwhile, Canada's open relay team of Brian McKeever and Brittany Hudak placed sixth in the final Para Nordic event of the Games.

The duo finished the 4x2.5km in a time of 30:24.7, a little over two minutes behind the gold medal-winning Ukrainian team.

France, unable to repeat as champion in the event, settled for silver, while Norway took bronze.

"I've always said I'm not in it for the medals, it's for the experiences. And today was a great day," McKeever said. "We raced hard, we had a good day and that was as much as I had today, for sure. Brit said the same and that's where we end up and we're proud of ourselves.

"At the end of the day we (Canada) also get to celebrate a (bronze) medal in the mixed relay and that's great for the spirit of the whole team. I'm very proud of them."

Hudak on the other hand, was happy to have competed with McKeever.

"It's a pretty surreal feeling. I've looked up to Brian so much and to finish the Games that way was so nice," she said.

Coming into the race having won all three of his individual events, the 42-year-old McKeever missed out an opportunity to stand alone with the all-time gold-medal record for a male winter Paralympian.

Having said he will retire following these Games, the Canmore, Alta., native goes out tied for first with German Para alpine skier Gerd Schoenfelder at 16 career gold medals. McKeever has won a total of 20 medals across six Paralympics.

"After 20 years, it's hard to say goodbye," he said. "But maybe it's not 'goodbye' but 'until next time'. For now, it was just so great to race again with the team in a relay.

"We are so tight as a team. We are friends and I love this team, every one of them. And to be able to do this last race as a relay, that was special."

His imprint already goes beyond his accomplishments.

Fellow Canadian Paralympians have lauded him for the leader he's been and the part he's played in Canada's cross-country success.

"It starts with the leadership that we have on the team. It starts from one of Canada's more successful coaches, to a man who's tying the record for gold medals," Arendz said.

"We can take some of that experience that Brian's shared with all of us. I think that's been critical for all of our careers, and the success of the team all together as well."

Wilkie shares a similar sentiment, adding how much his wealth of experience has helped in her time with the team.

"He's for sure already half-coach, half-athlete, which has just been awesome," she said. "I came into this team kind of late, just before the last Games, and so having that wealth of experience on the team has been awesome.

"He's so humble too, and will share advice with us. I felt like a newbie, he was so experienced, and it was just awesome that he was sharing advice and wisdom on that level."

Hudak, of Prince Albert, Sask., entered the race with a bronze in the women's standing 15km cross-country event.

The 28-year-old has two career medals, including bronze in Para biathlon competition four years ago.

Canada's Logan Leach placed fifth in the men's visually impaired slalom event, just over 17 seconds behind gold medal winner Giacomo Bertagnolli of Italy.

Brian Rowland, of Merrickville, Ont., did not finish and therefore left unranked, in the men's sitting event.

The closing ceremony for the 2022 Games begins on Sunday at 8 a.m. ET on the CBC-TV network, CBCSports.ca, CBC Gem and the CBC Sports app.

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