Among what many are touting as Canada’s strongest men’s cross-country ski team ever assembled for the Olympic Games, the biggest story will be if one particular member can actually cross the finish line.
Brian McKeever is a two time Paralympic champion who has Stargaard’s disease, causing the loss of his central vision. He will compete in the 50 km classical race, becoming the first Paralympian to compete in the Winter Olympics.
McKeever has competed in the Paralympics with the aid of his brother, former Canadian ski champion and Olympian, Robin McKeever, but will be without his guidance at these games.
“Knowing the course is really important when you don’t have a guide, because you can’t rely on anyone else to get you through it … it’s really important to know where the dangers are, where the corners are, and where the tracks are,” McKeever told the Montreal Gazette.
Regardless, it’s a risk McKeever is willing to take to accomplish his dream of competing at the Winter Olympics.
“Being the first to do both Winter Games, if that captures people’s imagination as far as what the dream can turn into … then that’s fine,” McKeever told the Vancouver Sun.
Under the tutelage of famed ski coach Inge Braten, a Norwegian, Canada has fared well on the world stage over the past year.
Alex Harvey leads the way amongst the medal hopefuls for Canada. The 20 year old has surprised many by finishing in the top-three in the team sprint and 50-kilometre classic at World Cup events this past year.
He was not expected to be so successful so soon, but the pride of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., is following in the footsteps of his Olympian father, Pierre, who competed in both the Winter and Summer Games as a cross-country skier and cyclist.
Devon Kershaw is another of Canada’s leading candidates to contend for a medal.
He will be competing in the 15 km freestyle, 1.5 km sprint and may replace George Grey as Harvey’s partner in the team sprint due to his performance as of late.
Kershaw who hails from Sudbury, Ont., is competing in his second Olympics and has had measurable success since Turin, placing on the podium in one World Cup event in 2008 and beating out three World Cup winners and a world champion in a 15 km freestyle event in Sweden in 2009.
“The team we’ll take into the Games, I believe, will be the strongest and the deepest team we’ve ever had,” national team leader Dave Wood told CTV.
Though this Canadian team is as talented as ever the competition will be not only as proficient but exceedingly experienced. Some of their biggest competition will be:
- Ola Vigen Hattestad of Norway, who has practically owned the world Cup circuit in the sprint events. Since 2007 he has six World Cup victories, as well as two gold medals at the 2009 world championship for the individual and team sprint
- Petter Northug is yet another Norwegian who has dominated the cross country skiing world. Having only begun competing in 2005 Northug has already amassed eight World Cup medals as well as three golds at the 2009 world championship competing in the 15km, 15km double pursuit, 4x10km relay and 50km freestyle mass start event
- Pietro Piller Cottrer is Italy’s top skier having competed in the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Games. He has already won gold, silver and bronze at the Games and has three world championship medals for the 4x10km relay, 15km and 15km double pursuit
All the cross-country events will be held at the Whistler Olympic Park, about a three-hour drive from Vancouver. The venue will house the ski jumping and biathlon events as well but each will have their own respective stadium with a 12,000 seat capacity.