Brian McKeever and Graham Nishikawa Win Back-to-Back Gold

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Brian McKeever and Graham Nishikawa

VUOKATTI, Fin.—Brian McKeever and his guide, Graham Nishikawa, put a golden stamp on a bittersweet season by winning the final IPC World Cup race of the year on Sunday in Vuokatti, Finland.

Feeding off their first IPC victory in their first para-Nordic start of the year on Saturday, McKeever, of Canmore, Alta., and Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, put the hurt on the field again Sunday – this time in the men’s 10-kilometre skate-ski race.

The Canadian duo clocked a winning time of 22 minutes, 31.1 seconds in the visually impaired division.

“I felt awful in the warm up – like there was nothing there. But once we got going I really settled in and started to feel good,” said the 36-year-old McKeever.

“I am not really good judging the pace in these 10 kilometre races. These distances are Nish’s bread and butter so he was super good today, setting a quick pace from the start – almost too good.”

The longtime friends and Canadian teammates, who united for the first time at the 2014 Paralympics, pushed the throttle down and never let up while battling through strong head winds and a challenging layout on the track in Finland.

“We put in a really good effort today. Nish was on fire for the first five kilometres, and that moved us into a solid position,” added McKeever. “We were able to build on that pace, and nobody was able to respond.

“It was super windy today so having a good guide was really important. I never could have lasted out there alone. The field is still very strong so we needed to push the whole way, and we knew we couldn’t shut it down until the end.”

Thomas Clarion and Antoine Bollet, of France, finished 36.3 seconds behind the legendary McKeever who holds 13 Paralympic medals including 10 victories – two of them with Nishikawa leading the way in Sochi. The French Team posted a silver-medal winning time of 23:03.1.

Russia’s Stanislav Chokhlaev and his guide, Oleg Kolodiichuk, rounded out the visually impaired podium with a time of 23:24.7.

It was the first two IPC World Cup starts of the season for McKeever, who spent the majority of his year trying to earn a spot on Canada’s squad for the Ski Tour Canada. While he came up short in that quest, the work put in paid off with a double-golden performance in para-racing.

“Obviously it was a bit of a frustrating year for me on the able-bodied side, but this shows the work has been good,” said McKeever. “There was lots of goals we wanted to reach this weekend. We accomplished them all – showing we are in great shape, we are still competitive and the guys to beat here in para-racing. I believe that is important to show our funding partners like Own the Podium we are not squandering opportunities they are helping provide to us.”

McKeever will now head to Sweden for his final race of the season – the Arfjalls Loppett – which will be staged in two weeks near the Norwegian border.

The rest of the Canadian contingent struggled to find their top gear on Sunday after a long stint in Scandinavia.

North Vancouver’s Emily Weekes was seventh in the women’s 7.5-kilometre standing division with a time of 22:52.7. Mark Arendz, of Hartsville, P.E.I., was eighth in the men’s 10-kilometre standing class with a time of 24:57.1.

Chris Klebl, of Canmore, Alta., was not able to respond after a hard silver-medal winning effort in Saturday’s distance race. The 2014 Paralympic champion finished 12th in Sunday’s 7.5-kilometre sit-ski race after posting a time of 23:53.2.  Canadian team rookie, Derek Zaplotinsky of Smokey Lake, Alta., clocked in at 27:11.2 to place 16th.

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