Brian McKeever and guide Graham Nishikawa celebrate McKeever’s 11th Paralympic gold medal on March 12. (Bob Nishikawa/Submitted)

McKeever wins 11th Paralympic gold

Whitehorse’s Graham Nishikawa was McKeever’s guide for most of the record-breaking race

Brian McKeever won the 20-kilometre visually impaired cross-country race at the Paralympics on March 12.

With Whitehorse’s Graham Nishikawa and Russell Kennedy of Canmore splitting the race as his guide, McKeever won a Canadian record 14th Paralympic medal and 11th gold.

McKeever finished the race with a time of 46 minutes and 2.4 seconds.

Yury Holub of Belarus was second with a time of 47 minutes and 7.5 seconds, followed by France’s Thomas Clarion in third with a time of 47 minutes and 24.4 seconds.

Warm, wet and windy conditions at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre in Pyeongchang led the Canadians to use a two-guide strategy similar to Sochi.

Nishikawa said two guides make it easier to keep the pace of the race high.

“Brian is world class. He is so fast that we have to drive a really hard pace into the wind because we know he is always going to be there,” said Nishikawa. “Using two fresh guides helps us keep a higher speed throughout the race.… We didn’t know exactly where the switch would happen, but we knew Russell would come in for a lap.”

Nishikawa led the first eight kilometres of the race and switched off to Kennedy just before the halfway point.

“The biggest thing about coming in mid-race is I have to remember that I’m fresh and Brian has already skied 10 kilometres,” said Kennedy. “Brian is such an incredible athlete. He is so fit, so I knew it would not be a major problem.”

Kennedy passed back to Nishikawa for the final lap.

McKeever gave credit to his team and his guides.

“Thanks to our wax techs and both of these guides, they all did an awesome job today,” said McKeever. “It is super windy out there so to be able to tuck in behind these big boys is important for me. They pushed hard, skied well and towed me along the whole way.”

McKeever’s 14th Paralympic medal puts him ahead of Lana Spreeman’s 13 medals and most-decorated in Canadian history.

“I wasn’t aware of this record, but it is pretty cool. I think for me more than anything is this is a testament to our entire program,” said McKeever.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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