CANMORE, Alta – Brian McKeever of Canmore and Natalie Wilkie of Salmon Arm, B.C. opened the week-long Para nordic World Cup this weekend with two victories apiece in cross country races to launch the 2021-22 season.
McKeever, Canada’s most successful winter Paralympian with 17 medals, and his guide Graham Nishikawa took gold in the 7.5 kilometre on Saturday and the 12.5 kilometre on Sunday.
In the short distance, McKeever clocked 18 minutes and 54.2 seconds. His closest pursuer among the 19 entries was Russian Oleg Ponomarev at 6.1 seconds behind. The 42-year-old McKeever finished the middle-distance event in 28:50.2 just 1.4 second ahead of Stanislav Chokhlaev of Russia.
“[Nishikawa] was super good,’’ said McKeever, heading to his sixth Paralympic Games, about Sunday’s race. ‘’It was incredibly hard guiding today because of the wind, and he was incredibly astute knowing when I needed guiding the most and when he could peel off.
‘’When you look at a margin of victory of 1.4 seconds, it is the little things that make the difference.”
Meanwhile 20-year-old Wilkie is showing her triple medal performance in PyeongChang nearly four years ago is no fluke.
On Saturday, she tied with compatriot Brittany Hudak of Saskatoon for top spot in the five-kilometre standing event, both finishing in 14:59.5 in the 12-woman field. Emily Young of North Vancouver nearly made it a Canadian medal sweep finishing fourth just a second back of third place.
In the 10-kilometre Sunday, she took top spot outright in 28:12.6 with Hudak second in 28:53.1. Young was sixth.
“Today was all about keeping the momentum going,” said Wilkie about Sunday’s race. “The legs were feeling a bit heavy, but I know the course really well, and was racing for the top again.”
Hudak is now up to 11 career World Cup medals.
“It makes it a lot fun being on home soil,’’ she said. ‘’Every corner we go around, seeing a familiar face and the cheering makes us push harder. It feels really nice to be in a competition yet have the familiarity of the trails.”
Also on the podium this weekend for Canada was Mark Arendz of Hartsville, PEI with a bronze in the men’s standing 7.5 kilometre and Collin Cameron of Sudbury, Ont., third in the men’s sit skiing 12.5 kilometre.
Competition resumes Tuesday at the Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park with the cross country sprint events.
Full results can be found HERE.
With files from Nordiq Canada