VUOKATTI, Fin. – Brian McKeever and his guide Russell Kennedy (both of Canmore, Alta.) won gold while Brittany Hudak (Prince Albert, Sask.) took the bronze Friday in the middle-distance classic cross-country ski races at the Para nordic World Cup, Canada’s first competition in over a year.
The 41-year-old McKeever, a winner of a Canadian winter record 17 Paralympic medals, clocked 30 minutes and 51.0 seconds in the 12.5-kilometre men’s visually impaired race. Sweden’s Zebastian Modin and Russia’s Stanislav Chokhlaev tied for second at 30:56.8.
“That was hard on an old man,” said McKeever, a veteran of five Paralympic Games. “It was a good start today. The course is pretty flat and does not have a whole lot of recovery on it, so we were working the whole way and I’m quite tired but it was a really good effort today.”
McKeever, committed to training for the 2022 Games, praised his guide. Kennedy is also chasing a spot on the Olympic team and recently competed at the world nordic championships.
“It was really cool to see Russ’ shape. He did amazingly well today looking over his shoulder, being super attentive that he was not getting too far ahead of me, and talking through the race.”
In the women’s standing 10-kilometre race, Hudak notched her first career podium in cross-country in five years.
Hudak, a biathlon bronze medallist at the 2018 Paralympic Games, clocked third in 29:59.4. Norway’s Vilde Nilsen won in 28:51.5 and Ekaterina Rumyantseva of Russia was second in 29:48.7.
“I’m super happy to be starting off the World Cup with a podium finish,’’ Hudak said. ‘’I’ve felt satisfied with a good year of training, so I was eager to see where my fitness was at amongst my competitors. I had great energy throughout the race and wanted to sustain my pace. Every time I got splits on how close I was to a podium, I just felt more energized. The tracks weren’t super fast, but the techs did a great job on the skis.”
Other Canadian results: Derek Zaplotinsky of Smokey Lake, Alta. was 10th in the men’s 10-kilometre sit-ski race. Two development athletes also suited up in the women’s 7.5-kilometre sit-ski discipline. Christina Picton, of Fonthill, Ont., was sixth and Lyne-Marie Bilodeau, of Sherbrooke, Que., placed ninth at 35:04.0.
Competition continues Saturday.