by Chris Dornan
January 9, 2014, CANMORE, Alta. (ISN) – Brian McKeever and Emily Nishikawa put their names into the mix of securing a spot on Canada’s 2014 Olympic Team by winning the opening distance races at Cross Country Canada’s Olympic Trials on Thursday at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
The 34-year-old McKeever, who made history as the first ever athlete to be named to an Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Team in 2010, demonstrated his shape, four years of preparation and desire to earn another opportunity to represent Canada at the biggest sporting event in the world after winning the men’s 15-kilometre individual start classic-ski race with a time of 46 minutes 02.4 seconds.
“I am super satisfied today,” said McKeever. “For me it is all about the preparation and the process and that is all I can focus on. Everything else is out of my control. But this result is good validation of all the hard work that myself and those around me have done over the last four years, and especially this year.”
The 10-time Parlaympic medallist gutted out one of the best performances over the last quadrennial. Sitting in second spot, 25 seconds behind the leader at the mid-way point of the race, the three-time Paralympian dug deep to narrow the gap to 13 seconds in his third trip around the hilly 3.75-kilometre Canmore Nordic Centre before crashing at the line after posting the time of the day at the finish.
“I could see my splits throughout the race and knew what I had to do. My strategy going in was this is a four-lap race. It is not over after two,” added McKeever. “I wanted to get into a good rhythm and keep the pace throughout all four laps. I like to be the guy moving up as the race goes along rather than falling back. It feels very rewarding to know I was able to stick to the plan and it worked out. “
Graeme Killick, of Fort McMurray, Alta., was second at 46:03.9. Calgary’s Kevin Sandau rounded out the men’s podium in third with a time of 46:20.9.
Legally blind with Stargardt’s disease – a rare form of macular degeneration that affects central vision – McKeever has won everything on the table in Para-Nordic sports including seven Paralympic medals. He is looking to earn the lone men’s distance racing spot remaining for Canada’s 11-member 2014 Olympic Cross-Country Ski Team, which will be named on January 14. Cross Country Canada will select a total of four more athletes – one male and one female sprinter and distance racer – following a series of races this week.
“I am just relieved to be able to put everything together and put it all into the race,” said McKeever. “For me it is all about focusing on the job I have to do. When it is all done on Sunday, I will be thrilled to have another opportunity to go to the Games, but if I don’t and I know I put everything I had into my performance, then that is all I can ask for.”
Following the men’s race, Emily Nishikawa took a major step forward towards booking her ticket to Sochi after dominating the women’s 10-kilometre individual start classic-ski race. Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, finished just under one minute clear of the field after clocking a time of 32:32.1.
“I have put in the work and now put it together for the races and that feels incredible,” said Nishikawa. “The wax was amazing and my skis were incredible today. I’m not going to celebrate just yet. I am going to recover and get ready for Sunday’s race.”
Brittany Webster, of Caledon, Ont., clocked the second-fastest time at 33:26.5, while Zoe Roy, of Canmore, Alta., skied to third place at 33:55.6.
The Olympic Trials continue on Saturday at the Canmore Nordic Centre with the final skate-ski sprint race. The men’s and women’s distance skiathlon races complete the Trials on Sunday. Cross Country Canada will nominate its Olympic squad, January 14, at Altadore Elementary School at 10:30 a.m.
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 58,000 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 Inc., AltaGas,. Canadian Pacific and Statoil – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee and Own the Podium, Cross Country Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and world champions. For more information on Cross Country Canada, please visit us at www.cccski.com.
Complete Olympic Trials Results: www.zone4.ca
Top-Five Men’s Results:
1. Brian McKeever, Canmore, Alta., 46:02.4; 2. Graeme Killick, Fort McMurray, Alta., 46:03.9; 3. Kevin Sandau, Calgary, 46:20.9; 4. Jesse Cockney, Canmore, Alta., 46:23.3; 5. Chris Hamilton, Thunder Bay, Ont., 46:28.1
Top-Five Women’s Results:
1. Emily Nishikawa, Whitehorse, 32:32.1; 2. Brittany Webster, Caledon, Ont., 33:26.5; 3. Zoe Roy, Canmore, Alta., 33:55.6; 4. Alysson Marshall, Salmon Arm, B.C., 34:14.2; 5. Heidi Widmer, Banff, Alta., 34:14.2