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Canada’s Brian McKeever remains the king of Para-Nordic cross-country skiing. The 13-time Paralympic medallist from Canmore, Alta., and his guide, Graham Nishikawa of Whitehorse, led wire-to-wire in the men’s 20-kilometre visually impaired classic cross-country ski race on Thursday in Finsterau, Germany.
With warm weather conditions sending wax technicians into a frenzy prior to the start of the race, the Canadian duo took advantage of a last-minute decision in ski selection to set up their charge to a golden time of 57:35.4.
“It was a really good day all around. In warm up it started icy, then was wet, and conditions were changing quickly. It was an uncertain feeling, but the guys really had to adjust on the fly and did an awesome job,” said McKeever. “Today we had good skis, good guiding and a overall I felt great all day.”
Sweden’s Zebastian Modin and his guide J Andersson were second at 1:00:24.6. Norway’s Arvid Nelson and Eirik Bye skied to the bronze medal with a time of 1:00:58.8.
Racing predominantly in longer distance able-bodied events this year, the 37-year-old McKeever added Nishikawa to his team in 2014 where he captured three gold medals at the Sochi Games, bringing his career total to 10 Paralympic titles.
Starting his Para-Nordic career with his brother, Robin McKeever, as his guide, the younger McKeever has used friends Erik Carleton and Nishikawa over the last two Paralympic quadrennials where he has become Canada’s most successful winter Paralympian having won nine World Championship titles to go along with 21 Para-Nordic World Cup victories since 2005.
Nishikawa, a former National Ski Team athlete, was tapped to lead the way at the 2017 World Championships.
“Graham skied really, really well today. In fact he put me in an uncomfortable place for a large portion of the race, and I may have done the same for him in spots,” added McKeever. “There are different sections where we felt really good, and then others poorly. You are just comfortable with certain terrain, but it was really, really hot today and that just makes it tough to be relaxed when it is like that. It is a constant mental battle.”
McKeever’s unprecedented results have inspired a new generation of Para-Nordic skiers for Canada. Nobody moreso than Mark Arendz who is on a mission to follow in his legendary tracks.
Already racking up a complete set of medals at the 2017 Para-Nordic World Ski Championships, the 26-year-old Arendz put down another solid effort in the men’s 20-kilometre standing race where he was fifth. A biathlon specialist, the Hartsville, P.E.I. resident started conservatively in fifth spot, but continued to fight for the medals until the finish line where stopped the clock at 59:34.4.
Ihor Reptyukh won the classification with a time of 58:03.1.
Two Canadians are also now regulars in the battle for medals in the women’s standing division. Vancouver’s Emily Young and Brittany Hudak, of Prince Albert, Sask., finished fourth and fifth respectively in the women’s 15-kilometre classic-ski race. The 26-year-old Young, who was part of Wedensday’s bronze medal relay team, rocketed out of the start, but faded near the end of the race where she clocked a time of 54:21.3. Hudak, 23, finished just behind her fellow Canuck at 55:53.9.
Ukraine swept the women’s standing race. Oleksandra Kononova set the time to beat at 51:56.9. Iuliia Batenkova was second at 53:38.1, while Liudmyla Liashenko completed the sweep with a time of 53:59.4.
Collin Cameron, of Sudury, Ont., was the top Canadian in the men’s sit-ski race, completing the 15-kilometre course in a time of 42:12.1 for seventh place. Quebec City’s Sebastien Fortier was 10th at 44:29.0.
Maksym Yarovyi, of the Ukraine, won the classification with a time of 40:32.4.
“The most exciting part for me is watching these young guys like Brittany and Emily killing it in classic, or watching Collin who has become a superstar over year in just his second year,” said McKeever. “I’m old has heck, but you see these development guys come in and all you can do is give them the toolbox to achieve success and show them the door, but they have to open it. These guys are and they are nailing it.
“They are all having their best World Championships and for me that is very exciting. They are all proof if you work hard, you can come in and achieve success. Hopefully they will all see the potential as well to now push themselves further and go even faster.”
Athletes will get a day off on Friday at the Para-Nordic World Ski Championships. The next race is the biathlon sprint on Saturday.
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