Brian McKeever and Heidi Widmer Ski to First Career Individual Titles at Haywood Ski Nationals in Whistler

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March 24, 2013, Whistler, BC (ISN) – Brian McKeever and Heidi Widmer were crowned Canadian Champions for the first time in their career after winning the men’s and women’s individual start cross-country skate-ski race at the Haywood Ski Nationals on Sunday in Whistler, B.C.

The 33-year-old McKeever, of Canmore, Alta., who has won nearly everything on the table in para-nordic racing, took on the best 150 able-bodied athletes in the country that were not at the World Cup Finals, and clocked a winning time of 21:18.1 in the men’s 10-kilometre individual start race.

“It was so fun. We love racing and to come out and do well is a big reward,” said the 10-time Paralympic medallist. “The conditions were good today. The light was really good for me. When it gets grey that is when it gets really sketchy for me on the corners. I had to push hard on the climbs and the techs did an awesome job on my skis today.”

Graham Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, who just returned from representing Canada at the Nordic World Ski Championships skied to the silver medal position on the podium, 11.7 seconds behind McKeever at 21:29.8. Graeme Killick, of Fort McMurray, Alta., rounded out the men’s podium in third at 21:41.1.

The national title caps off a stellar season for McKeever. The legendary 10-time Paralympic medallist returned to Canada this week after racking up two gold medals at the IPC World Championships before winning two more gold medals at the IPC World Cup Finals on the 2014 Paralympic trails in Sochi, Russia.

“We’ve been racing really well in Europe. The shape is good right now and you just need to take advantage of it because you never know when it won’t be there,” added McKeever. “We are happy to be back here. I love racing in Whistler. It is such an amazing venue and I think it is great that we are able to continue using the facility by bringing our national championships here.”

Meanwhile, Heidi Widmer, won the first individual national championship title of her career after finishing third behind two international athletes in the women’s five-kilometre race. The 22-year-old Widmer clocked a top Canadian time at 12:25.2.

“I’m ecstatic. I never thought my first win at Nationals would be in the five kilometre race,” said Widmer, a sprint specialist, who won the team sprint on Saturday with Marlis Kromm. “Yesterday was good preparation for this race. The five k’s are an awesome distance to practice how hard you can go from start to finish. I felt good, but my legs were burning and I was breathing heavy for a very long time after.”

American’s Caitlin Gregg set the time to beat at 12:02.8, while Eliska Harkova finished second, just 10.9 seconds off the leading mark.

International athletes cannot win medals at the Haywood Ski Nationals. Widmer was therefore joined on the podium by Ontario’s Alana Thomas who crossed the line 32.7 seconds behind Gregg’s time. Alysson Marshall, of Salmon Arm, B.C., placed third at 12:37.2.

Earlier in the day it was Ricardo Izquierdo-Bernier, who skis out of the Fondeurs Laurentides club, winning the junior men’s 10-kilometre race with a time of 22:53.8. Jennifer Jackson from the Hardwood Ski Club won the junior women’s five-kilometre individual start after stopping the clock at 12:59.0.

The Haywood Ski Nationals continue on Tuesday with the individual start middle distance races. For complete results in all race categories, please visit www.zone4.ca.

Cross Country Canada is the governing body of cross-country skiing in Canada, which is the nation’s optimal winter sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually. Its 55,000 members include athletes, coaches, officials and skiers of all ages and abilities, including those on Canada’s National Ski Teams and Para-Nordic Ski Teams. With the support of its valued corporate partners – Haywood Securities, AltaGas, Statoil and Canadian Pacific – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium and B2ten, Cross Country Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and world champions. For more information on Cross Country Canada, please visit us at www.cccski.com.

Complete Haywood Ski Nationals Results: www.zone4.ca

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