Canada's Nordic Team Celebrates Triple Medal Day at Paralympic Winter Games
Canada's Para-Nordic enjoyed their most successful day in the history of the Paralympic Winter Games celebrating three athletes hopping onto the podium along with a trio of near misses on Wendesday in PyeongChang, Korea.
Canada's Brian McKeever won gold in the 1.5-kilometre cross-country sprint visually impaired final at the 2018 Winter Paralympics.
It was the 12th gold of McKeever's storied career and his second in Pyeongchang. The 38-year-old from Canmore, Alta., now owns 15 Paralympic medals and became Canada's most decorated Winter Paralympian earlier at these Games.
"These sprint races are miserable. They are so hard. The young guys are fast, and have natural snap," said McKeever following a grueling day under the warm sun and heavy snow conditions. "There is so much stress in sprint racing, and it goes all day long. I'm much more comfortable with the longer distances. But it was a great day for us. Russell carried the load for us today, and just thrilled we were able to cross the line first."
McKeever, who has won all three sprint races since the discipline was introduced into the Paralympic program in 2010, double-poled the entire course with guide Russell Kennedy (Canmore, Alta.) in the sprint.
"That was tough and it hurt a lot," said the 26-year-old Kennedy. "We played things a bit more strategic in the semis because we knew the final was going to be a tough fight, and it was. That first hill hurt a lot. Once I got to the stop I was able to settle down and said to myself 'okay you got this'."
Kennedy helped also played a key role in leading McKeever to the top of the podium in Monday's distance race as the Canadians exercised a two-guide strategy with Graham Nishikawa (Whitehorse).
Nishikawa joined McKeever on the podium for that race. Kennedy will get his first taste of gold at Wednesday's medal ceremony.
"This is a new experience for me - especially coming from the Olympics where the focus is all on yourself. Brian is such a strong athlete and guiding him requires a lot more communication. Competing here at the Paralympics is really rewarding because you do this as a team. It is hard at times to know if I'm going too hard or if he needs me to go faster, but it has been a lot of fun for me."
McKeever has a shot at completing a "triple treble" with a gold in the men's 10-km event; he won gold in all three individual men's races — sprint, 10 km and 20 km — at both the Vancouver and Sochi Games and is two-thirds of the way there in Pyeongchang.
Earlier, Mark Arendz tied for bronze in a thrilling finish in the men's standing sprint final.
It was the first-career Paralympic cross-country medal for the 28-year-old from Hartsville, P.E.I., who already owns silver and bronze biathlon medals from these Games. Arendz also claimed biathlon silver and bronze at the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi.
Arendz appeared to have a shot at gold in the race before Kazakhstan's Alexandr Kolyadin surged past the front three to claim gold. From there, the Canadian battled it out with Finland's Ilkka Tuomisto, with both skiers sharing third place in a photo finish.
"Sitting there in the finish waiting for the results of the photo finish, I was just hoping for a tie," said the 28-year-old Arendz. "It was a really good race but I made a mistake down the finishing stretch switching to try and find a faster track and that may have cost me the whole race.
"I came here for medals in biathlon and was hoping to get my first one in cross-country. To come away with my first bronze in cross-country skiing means alot. I couldn't be happier."
Canada's medal count grew shortly afterward thanks to 17-year-old Natalie Wilkie. The Salmon Arm, B.C., native earned her first-ever Paralympic medal in the women's standing sprint, racing to a bronze medal. Fellow Canadians Emily Young and Brittany Hudak finished fourth and sixth, respectively.
"It feels so awesome. This is my first Paralympics and I am just so happy to have won a medal," said Wilkie, who found comfort racing in the final alongside two other Canadian women. "We are competing against each other, but we are also helping each other. It was calming for me to have them there with me. We talked about strategy as a team before the final because the goal was for us to win a medal for Canada."
Collin Cameron finished just three-tenths of a second off the podium in the men's sitting sprint. The 29-year-old from Sudbury, Ont., qualified in a tie for first for the final, but placed fourth following an intense finish to the event.
"I raced as hard as I could...it is what it is. I just came up a little short," said a dejected Cameron. "It is amazing that I got a medal this week in biathlon, I wasn't expecting it, but that was behind me. I really wanted something here. This was the race I wanted a medal in. It was a close one."
Chris Klebl (Canmore, Alta.) and Derek Zaplotinsky (Smokey Lake, Alta.) both finished sixth in their respective semifinals and didn't advance. Sébastien Fortier (17), Ethan Hess (27) and Yves Bourque (29) did not move past qualification; in the women's sitting sprint, Cindy Ouellet failed to advance to the semis, placing 17th.
The top Para-Nordic athletes will enjoy a rest day before the final biathlon race of the Games takes place on Friday.