Paralympics: Visually impaired cross-country skier strikes gold
WHISTLER, British Columbia — The medal was eight years in the making, and it helped ease some of Brian McKeever’s Olympic heartache.
McKeever won the 20-kilometer cross-country ski race for the visually impaired Monday, giving Canada its first gold medal of the Winter Paralympics. It was the first time he had won this race after finishing second in 2002 in Salt Lake City and in Turin in 2006.
“That was the one we were waiting to win,” said McKeever, who finished almost 42 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher. “That’s the one we really wanted.”
McKeever qualified for the Canadian Olympic team in January and was poised to become the first winter sports athlete to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics. But at the Winter Games, the Canadian coaching staff decided against starting him in his event, the 50 kilometers.
“We are never going to forget what happened but this helps us move on,” the 30-year-old McKeever said. “We still have more racing to go and more things to look ahead to.”
McKeever and his brother Robin, who acts as his guide, finished the race in 51 minutes 14.7 seconds. Nikolay Polukhin of Russia was second in 51:55.6 while Vasiki Shaptsiaboi of Belarus was third in 52:22.5.
McKeever has Stargaard’s disease, a genetic disease that has reduced his vision to about 10 percent, all of which is peripheral.
It’s the fifth Paralympic gold for McKeever. He also has two silvers and one bronze in his collection. He won two gold, a silver and a bronze at the 2006 Turin Paralympics. McKeever finished sixth in his first Paralympic race Saturday, the 3-kilometer biathlon pursuit.
Not competing at the Olympics was a blow.
“I keep saying it hurts as much as the day I was told I was going to lose my eyesight,” McKeever said before the Paralympics. “That’s how big it was for me. It was huge, crushing. But I got over the eyes. I will get over this.”
On Sunday, Canada won three silver medals. Colette Bourgonje captured the host country’s first medal, then Viviane Forest and Josh Dueck added silvers of their own.
Bourgonje was second in the women’s 10-kilometer sit-ski cross-country, finishing in 31 minutes 49.8 seconds to become the first Canadian to win a Paralympic medal on home turf.
“Wow, I’m shocked and I can’t believe it,” the 48-year-old Paralympian said. “Age is nothing, attitude is everything and I lived by that today.”
The only Canadian to have competed in all five Paralympics to go along with four Summer Paralympics, Bourgonje was on pace to win the gold before crashing on the second of three laps.
“I am still racing because I wanted to compete at a Paralympics in Canada and I’m just so proud to have done this in front of all Canadians,” she said. “I share this medal with the entire country.”