Brian McKeever

Brian McKeever put a silver lining around his lone series of cross-country ski races for the COVID-condensed Para Nordic World Cup season, while Brittany Hudak battled to her second bronze medal of the week on Tuesday in Vuokatti, Finland.


The 41-year-old McKeever, along with his guide Russell Kennedy, earned a complete set of medals in four tries after posting a second-place time of 18:17.5 in the men’s visually impaired 7.5-kilometre classic-ski race.


“It still felt heavy, but I was the closest I felt on power so I think a lot of what is missing right now is just having races,” said the 17-time Paralympic medallist. “Maybe I didn’t feel as good as usual today but being able to generate more and move better is a good sign.”


The 30-year-old Kennedy, who shared guiding duties for McKeever at the 2018 Paralympics after representing Canada at the Olympic Games in PyeongChang, blazed the trail this week for Canada’s most decorated Winter Paralympian after a breakthrough season of his own on the World Cup circuit and at the recent World Championships. With the Para Nordic season cancelled until this past month due to COVID, McKeever provided additional support to Kennedy and the next generation of Canucks while helping test skis at the World Championships.


The Canmore boys were in synch all week in Finland while gauging their training for the critical Olympic and Paralympic season ahead. The Canadian duo skied to the gold medal in the middle-distance race and a bronze in yesterday’s 20-kilometre trek on the relatively flat tracks in Vuokatti.


“Mission accomplished,” said McKeever. “It was important for us to get over here and just see where we are at. These results show that we are close, and if I’m good we will be right there.”


McKeever’s top rival, Zebastian Modin of Sweden, finished well ahead of the Canadians on the gold medal step of the podium with a time of 17:12.6. Yury Holub, of Belarus, was third at 18:37.3.


“There was no way we were going to catch Modin today,” said McKeever. “We were thinking of double-poling and in hindsight maybe we should have but given the conditions and not being a hard course with no technicality it is very difficult for us to make up the per centages and wouldn’t have made up that much more time.”


Canada’s Brittany Hudak made up a lot of time on the field to lock up her second bronze medal of the week – this time in the women’s five-kilometre classic-ski standing race.


Feeding off the best cross-country ski race of her life in the middle-distance classic race on Friday, the 27-year-old Hudak rocketed out the of the gate on Tuesday pacing herself to just her second cross-country ski medal in six years.


The biathlon bronze medallist at the 2018 Paralympics stopped the clock at 14:24.7.


“I knew going into the race that I needed to start hard and maintain a fast pace with it being only five kilometres,” said Hudak, who hails from Prince Albert, Sask. “I felt really good throughout the race and was happy my body had some pep for a fight for a podium.”


Hudak, who has also put her degree in social work into play this past year while working at a group home for teens with Enviros Wilderness School Association while training and staying ready for the restart of international racing, showcased her progression while scrapping for the podium with Norway’s Vilde Nilsen and Russia’s Ekaternia Rumyantseva.


Nilsen set the time to beat at 13:52.9, while Rumyantseva finished in second place at 14:12.8.


“My skis were amazing today and the staff were so helpful giving splits and cheering me on around the course,” added Hudak. “It was a great team effort that resulted in podium performances, so we are thrilled.”


Three Canadians also suited up in the women’s and men’s five-kilometre sit-ski races.


Competing in just her second year on the Para Nordic World Cup, Christina Picton (Fonthill, Ont.) skied to seventh place with a time of 18:42.9. Lyne-Marie Bilodeau (Sherbrooke, Que.) was ninth at 20:16.0. Derek Zaplotinsky (Smokey Lake, Alta.) finished in eighth in the men’s race at 15:34.3.


After a day off on Wednesday, the Para Nordic World Cup will resume on Thursday in Finland with the first of two days of biathlon competitions.


Complete Para-Nordic World Cup Vuokatti Results: