Cross-Country

Chris Iorfida - Thursday Jan. 9, 2014 13:40 ET

Brian McKeever, blind skier, makes strong claim for Olympic inclusion

Wants to compete at Olympics, Paralympics

Brian McKeever

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Legally blind skier Brian McKeever, looking to be named to both the Olympic and Paralympic teams for a second straight time, won the men's 15-kilometre classic race Thursday at the cross-country trials in Canmore, Alta.

While McKeever will also compete in Sunday's skiathlon, the result helps towards his goal of getting back to the Olympic stage after a heartbreaking decision left him out of the competition at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

The Calgary native was passed over in favour of other athletes in a controversial coach's decision for the 50 kilometre race at those Olympics. As a result, he wasn't able to make history as the first winter Paralympian to also compete in the Olympics in the same year, and the ensuing months were often difficult.

"I needed to re-focus and rediscover the fun [of competing]," he told CBCSports.ca in November. "It was certainly a big learning experience."

McKeever even had to hash things out with some teammates, who were put in an uncomfortable position through no fault of their own.

On Thursday, McKeever had the fastest third lap and one of the fastest final laps among 50 competitors in the individual start classic-ski race. He came from behind to win in a time of 46 minutes and 2.4 seconds. That was a second-and-a-half ahead of Graeme Killick of Fort McMurray, Alta.

McKeever said he was "super satsified" after the race.

"... This result is good validation of all the hard work that myself and those around me have done over the last four years, and especially this year," he said in a Cross Country Canada press release.

The skier who often sports prominent X-Men sideburns also beat the likes of Jesse Cockney (fourth), who's competed regularly on the World Cup circuit this season, as well as his guide for Paralympic competitions, Erik Carleton (11th), and his training partner Graham Nishikawa (seventh).

McKeever, 34, inherited a Stargardts-like degenerative retinal disease when he was in university and retains about 10 per cent of his vision.

"At the start of the semester I could sit at the back of the 400-person lecture theatre and read everything and by the end of the semester I was sitting at the front and couldn't read a damn thing," he said earlier this season.

Preparation is key when McKeever competes with able-bodies athletes, as fast downhill sections and corners can be challenging.

"I try to keep the emotion out of it as much as I can and then just go on what I know, and what I can control," he said. 

McKeever has maintained that a Sochi bid was always in the plans regardless of what transpired in Vancouver. In fact, he plans on competing as long as his body cooperates.

He has won seven gold medals and 10 medals overall from Paralympic competition in his career, dating back to 2002. 

The Paralympic performances from four years ago in Vancouver rank highly. In addition to feeling the sting of the rejection from a few weeks earlier, he and his guide, brother and 1998 Olympian Robin McKeever, were dealing with illness.

Olympic team selection

Cross Country Canada will choose one more man and two women after this week's event for the 11-member Olympic team to join skiers such as Alex Harvey, Devon Kershaw, Perianne Jones and Daria Gaiazova, who already figure in the Sochi plans.

Emily Nishikawa won Thursday's women’s 10-kilometre classic race. The Whitehorse, Y.T., finished native crossed in 32:32.1.
 
"I have put in the work and now put it together for the races and that feels incredible," said Nishikawa. "The wax was amazing and my skis were incredible today."
 
Brittany Webster of Caledon, Ont., was second, with Zoe Roy of Canmore, Alta., in third.

Chandra Crawford of Canmore, 2006 Olympic sprint gold medallist, competed Wednesday as she looks to further sharpen her game after a calendar year in which she took an extended break from the team to refocus. 

Another notable bid belongs to Zina Kocher of Red Deer, Alta. Kocher is trying to make the Olympic cross-country team after having already been named to the biathlon squad for Sochi.

The Olympic team will be announced on Jan. 14.

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