|Canada’s Brian McKeever (right) and his brother and guide Robin celebrate after taking the gold medal during the men’s 20-km. cross-country visual impaired at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Whistler, on Monday, March 15. (REUTERS/Andy Clark)
WHISTLER -- The athlete at the centre of Canada’s last disappointment of the 2010 Winter Olympics produced the host nation’s first triumph of the Paralympics on Monday.
Legally blind cross-country skier Brian McKeever of Canmore, Alta., qualified to compete at the Olympics but was not selected to race on the final day of the Games in a controversial coaching decision. McKeever dreamed of becoming the first athlete to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics in the same winter.
On Monday, he captured the first Paralympic gold medal for Canada on home snow when he won the 20 kilometre visually impaired freestyle in the Callaghan Valley.
“We’re never going to forget what happened, but this helps us to move on and we’ve got more racing yet to go,” said McKeever, whose guide is brother Robin McKeever.
The McKeevers overcame a cold to win in 51:14.7 after skiing to consecutive silvers in the same event at Salt Lake 2002 and Turin 2006.
“That’s the one we really wanted,” McKeever said. “It’s been eight years in the making.”
Nikolay Polukhin of Russia was the silver medallist. Bronze went to Vasili Shaptsiaboi of Belarus.
“What I can take out of (the Olympics) is the amount of support I had. Canadians really came out to support me when I was most in need of it, for that I will always be in their debt,” McKeever said. “It was a great experience regardless of what happened.”
McKeever said he wants another shot at making history in the Sochi 2014 Olympics and Paralympics. In the meantime, he has one biathlon and two cross-country races left on the Paralympic schedule.
Later Monday, North Vancouver’s Lauren Woolstencroft skied to gold in the women’s standing slalom at Whistler Creekside. Karolina Wisniewska of Vancouver was the bronze medallist.
"I'm super-surprised, super-excited and super-happy for Karolina to be on the podium, too," said Woolstencroft, the 28-year-old, 2009 world champion.
Canada is third in overall medals with two gold, three silver and a bronze. Cross-country skier Colette Bourgonje of Saskatoon and alpine skiers Josh Dueck of Vernon, B.C. and Viviane Forrest of Edmonton all won silver on Sunday.
Defending sledge hockey champion Canada meets Norway on Tuesday night in a rematch of the Turin 2006 final to complete the preliminary round in Vancouver. Both teams are bound for separate semifinal games.