Klebl skis to first Paralympic medal, McKeever chalks up 10th career
SOCHI, Russia, March 16, 2014 /CNW/ - Mission accomplished!
Canada's Para-Nordic Ski Team wrapped up the Sochi 2014 Paralympic
Winter Games in thrilling fashion with a double-gold performance in
cross-country skiing on Sunday.
In two of the most challenging classifications, Chris Klebl, of Canmore,
Alta., shocked the world to win the men's 10-kilometre sit-ski race,
while Brian McKeever won his third gold medal of the week in the
visually impaired category.
The 42-year-old Klebl put down the performance of the Games when it
counted most to win Canada its final gold medal, and secure the country
its goal of finishing in the top-three in the overall medal count.
Klebl clocked a time of 30 minutes, 52.0 seconds (30:52.0).
"It feels pretty good for sure," said Klebl. "I have exceptional skis
for wet, sloppy conditions and today we got exactly those conditions.
It just feels good. We prepare for this over and over and over again to
try and get things to line up, and today it did."
A three-time Paralympian, Klebl moved to Canmore, Alta. to join the
Canucks from the United States following the Vancouver 2010 Games. He
first made history as a member of the Canadian Team in 2011 by winning
the World Championships in the sit-ski distance race.
Klebl, who grew up in Austria where he skied and snowboarded, became
paralyzed from the waist down in 1995 in a snowboarding accident.
Sunday's victory was particularly important as Canada was in a fight for
third spot in the overall Paralympic gold medal count with the Ukraine
with the final sit-ski race remaining.
Klebl held off the Ukraine's Maksym Yarovyi, who finished second at
31:06.5. Russia's Grigory Murygin skied to the bronze at 31:18.2.
"It means a ton to me to contribute to Canada's medal count," said
Klebl. "Four years ago I made a major decision to move to Canada, and
Cross Country Canada and the Own the Podium program have backed me
since. I just wanted to pay them back."
While Klebl grabbed Canada's final gold medal at the 2014 Games, it was
Brian McKeever who secured the nation its first. On Sunday the
legendary Paralympian was at it again.
Battling race fatigue and strong headwinds, the 34-year-old McKeever
utilized a two-guide strategy with Erik Carleton and Graham Nishikawa,
for the second time this week to gut out an impressive come-from-behind
victory. Team McKeever posted a time of 23 minutes, 18.1 seconds in the
men's 10-kilometre skate-ski visually impaired category.
"That one was tough. It hurt," said McKeever. "I woke up this morning
and didn't feel great. It was all on the guides again today. They did
such a good job with the headwind. I was able to tuck in behind them
and save a lot of energy. By the time we got to the last lap there was
still a little gas left to get us by today."
Outside of sprint racing, it was the smallest margin of victory at a
Paralympic Winter Games for McKeever, winning by just eight seconds.
Russia's Stanislav Chokhlaev skied to the silver at 23:25.1, while
Thomas Clarion, of France, rounded out the podium in third with a time
The Canadians leveraged a two-guide race strategy to pull McKeever to
the top of the podium.
The 36-year-old Carleton, of Canmore, Alta., led the way around the
first 6.5-kilometres before coach Robin McKeever called in Graham
Nishikawa, of Whitehorse, to pull him into the winner's circle.
McKeever was behind 12 seconds at the five-kilometre mark in the race.
"Having guided for 10 years I know how incredibly hard it is to do this
job in the wind," said Robin McKeever, head coach, Canadian Para-Nordic
Ski Team, who led his brother to 10 Paralympic podiums. "It is like a
tow truck pulling a Ferrari out there in the wind. For the guide, it is
like doing a one-kilometre sprint race just to stay ahead of Brian. But
the problem is you have to keep that pace for nine more kilometres. It
is so difficult."
Consummate team players, Carleton and Nishikawa shared the workload and
trips to the podium this week to help McKeever accomplish his goal of a
"It is so tough out there and I'm thankful Graham was here to help us
out and get the job done," said Carleton. "I went hard off the start
and just tried to hang on."
"Brian is just such an incredible athlete so it is very difficult to
stay ahead of him," added Nishikawa. "This whole week has been such an
awesome experience. I've been so impressed with everything, and of
course I'd love to be back again."
The victories bring McKeever's Paralympic gold medal count to 10, making
him Canada's only winter Paralympian to reach double digits. He has a
total of 13 Paralympic medals.
"The medals this week were very special," said McKeever. "The way we did
it was such a team effort. Both guides gave me a solid draft all week,
which made a huge difference in the conditions. We orchestrated a great
team effort and that makes it so special to me."
Other Canadian results on Sunday included: Mark Arendz (Hartsville,
P.E.I.) in 11th at 25:16.4; and Louis Fortin (Fredericton, N.B) 36th at
32:58.8 in the men's 10-kilometre standing race. Brittany Hudak, of
Prince Albert, Sask., was 12th at 15:35.0, and Ottawa's Caroline Bisson
16th at 16:55.2 in the women's five-kilometre standing category. Robbi
Weldon (Thuder Bay, Ont,) and her guide Phil Wood (Canmore, Alta.) were
seventh at 15:32.5, while Ottawa's Margarita Gorbounova and her guide
of Regina's Andrea Bundon were eighth at 15:42.2 in the women's
five-kilometre visually impaired race. Saskatoon's Colette Bourgonje
was 13th in women's five-kilometre sit-skiing at 18:13.0. Yves Bourque,
of Becancour, Que., was 24th at 39:11.5, and Quebec City's Sebastien
Fortier was 26th (40:03.4) in the men's 10-kilometre sit-ski race.
In addition to McKeever and Klebl's four golds, Canada's Para-Nordic
squad will leave Sochi with six medals as Mark Arendz also won a silver
and one bronze in biathlon racing.
For more information and complete results, please visit www.paralympic.ca
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Canadian Paralympic athletes at any time, at no cost.
For full information about Team Canada at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic
Games, please visit www.paralympic.ca/team-canada.
SOURCE: Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC)
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