McKeever robbed of his dream

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

WHISTLER, B.C. — On the final day of their own Olympic Games, four young Canadians have a chance to be a nation’s quintessential hero.

Their coach could have made this happen, to let legally blind cross-country skier Brian McKeever live his dream and inspire others.

So, if you are Alex Harvey, George Grey, Ivan Babinov or Devon Kershaw, why not do the right thing Sunday morning?

All four have already raced in these Olympics, some in more than one event. Why not just one of you succumb to the Olympic spirit and take one for your teammate?

Why not make your country as proud, if not moreso, than you would be if you skied your guts out and finished in the top 10 of the men’s 50-kilometre event?

If McKeever has to watch from the sidelines, as he has been told he must, what a sickening way to start a Sunday in which Canadians from coast to coast are hoping will end in celebration.

McKeever’s coaches should be ashamed. Ashamed for exploiting an incredible athlete who happens to have a disability. Turns out, that makes him a public relations pawn too good to pass up.

And what mileage the cross-country folks got from him!

The first athlete to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics was a story impossible to resist when McKeever was trotted on stage for the world’s media.

So big, in fact, that McKeever’s pre-Games press conference was held in Vancouver, not in Whistler where he competes and where the rest of the team told their stories.

By now, most Canadians have heard McKeever’s tale. He suffers from Stargardt disease, a genetic condition that affects his central vision. The 10% that remains is peripheral, which requires his brother Robin to be his guide and training partner.

It was the feel-good story of the Games, until Canadian coach Dave Wood informed McKeever late Friday night that he would be sitting this one out.

“The decision’s been made, it’s out of my hands,” McKeever said, with class none of those around him seem capable of matching. “I respect the decision, but I don’t have to be happy with it.

“The supporters have been amazing. People have really latched onto this. That’s really heart-warming for me.”

In their defence, the coaches say they wrestled with the decision, ultimately deciding the four who will ski — the maximum allowed for any nation — are the fastest. All of them have put together top-10 performances in different events here in a promising Games for the program.

It can be argued that all four deserve a shot to continue, but isn’t that something that could have been predicted? There was a chance for transperancy from the beginning.

Immediately following his arrival in Vancouver, Cross Country Canada announced McKeever would be the first ever athlete to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics in the same year. From the day he was named to the team, the emphasis was on “compete,” not just show up.

At no point did the coaching staff publicly acknowledge that McKeever might not compete, a check of press releases revealed.

When the men’s 4x10-kilometre relay team finished seventh Wednesday, Kershaw and Harvey complained about being too fatigued to make a serious push for the podium because they had competed two days earlier. Might they still be a little tired come Sunday morning?

There are only two ways to make this mess possible to stomach: The first is for one of the four young men to give up their spot to an inspirational teammate. The second, have two of them hit the podium to justify the decision. For anyone who follows the sport, that is next to impossible.

Instead, with a lump in our throats, we are left to read McKeever’s Twitter update and share his pain.

“Olympic dream over. Don’t think I’ve ever been so sad,” he wrote.

On one final Olympic morning in a Games that has brought so much to celebrate, he is not alone.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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