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Paralympic champ Brian McKeever starts season in Canmore with two golds

"[The competition] certainly is very hard and that's what we want and a lot of the best skiers in the world showed up."

CANMORE – With a sixth and final Winter Paralympic Games on the horizon, Canmore's Brian McKeever, the country's most decorated Paralympian, hasn't lost a step.

The 42-year-old kicked off the new season winning gold twice and a fourth place at the 2021 Canmore Para Nordic Skiing World Cup at the Canmore Nordic Centre.

"[The competition] certainly is very hard and that's what we want and a lot of the best skiers in the world showed up," said McKeever. "It's a Paralympic year. People are pretty serious and obviously, we're seeing that races are tight across all the categories and that's exciting so it's going to be a good season ahead."

More than 120 Para athletes and 14 nations have come to Canmore for Dec. 4-12 for the season-opening event.

With guide Graham Nishikawa, McKeever won Saturday's (Dec. 4) men's 7.5 km visually impaired classic by 6.1 seconds ahead of Russian Oleg Ponomarev.

Though, McKeever wasn't finished standing on the podium, and followed up it with another golden performance in Sunday's (Dec. 5) 12.5-kilometre visually impaired free technique at a time of 28:50.2, edging out Russia's Stanislav Chokhlaev (28:51.5) for top spot.

USA's Jake Adicoff won bronze at a time of 29:02.7.

Racing in "Canada's ski town," the five-time Paralympian said the hometown course has been fast and, it being a big international season, things have gotten get tight out there.

"I took down one of the guides, I think, on the last lap [in Sunday's race]," said McKeever. "I yelled at him when I was coming and either he didn't know I was on that side or he moved wrong or something, but I stepped on his ski and he went down so ... it's a racing incident that happens and when you're going for the line and going for the win and every second counts you're not really worrying about making contact that's for sure."

On Tuesday (Dec. 7), the final day of cross country racing, McKeever qualified for the sprint finals after two heats, but for the first time this world cup, the Canuck was unable to reach the podium.

Russia's Ponomarev was first, Sweden's Zebastian Modin was second and Russia's Vladimir Udaltsov was third.

"The hardest part for him and the hardest race will always be the sprint," said Robin McKeever, head coach of Canada's Para Nordic team. "I think we'll see what happens when he gets to use his legs at the Paralympics because double-polling today was pretty tough."

The coach said the fact that his younger brother is still racing like a Paralympic champ at 42 years old is already a great sign for the season ahead.

McKeever is living with Stargardt’s disease, which impaired visual acuity, and he's guided by Nishikawa and world cup staple Russell Kennedy.

Starting at the 2002 Paralympics in Salt Lake City, USA, McKeever has won 17 medals (13 gold, two silver, two bronze) in Paralympic excellency and 16 world titles to his name over his decorated career.

Approaching two decades since debuting in Salt Lake City, McKeever's last dance halfway around the world might not be his last big event racing.

McKeever said this will be his last Paralympics, but is unsure if his cross country racing career will continue past Beijing in March.

"I have no idea," he said. "I can't really comment on it. I'm focused more on just the year at large and this will be my last Games year, I won't stick around four more years but I haven't made any decisions yet."

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

An award-winning reporter, Jordan Small has covered sports, the arts, and news in the Bow Valley since 2014. Originally from Barrie, Ont., Jordan has lived in Alberta since 2013.
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