Four Canadians Fire into Top-10 at Paralympic Biathlon Pursuit Competition

- Brian McKeever, Robbi Weldon finish sixth, Mark Arendz places seventh, Jody Barber 10th -

WHISTLER, BC, March 13 /CNW Telbec/ - Four of Canada's nordic athletes battled through heavy snow, first-time Paralympic jitters and illness to climb into the top-10 of a three-kilometre biathlon pursuit competition, marking the opening event of the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Whistler, B.C., on Saturday.

Brian and Robin McKeever, who have seven Paralympic medals together, had a personal victory of sorts despite not mounting the podium. The Canmore, Alta.-based brother tandem equaled their best-ever opening-day biathlon pursuit finish with a sixth-place result in the men's visually-impaired category. The Canadian duo also finished sixth in the same event in 2002 and eighth in 2006.

"Obviously we wanted more out of today, but this is our first real good training that we've had in almost 10 days," said Robin McKeever, who is a 1998 Olympian and has guided his brother to three Paralympic Winter Games. "We have both been sick, and have not had the training volume that we need. This is good for us to get a solid race under our belts to help set up the 20-kilometre on Monday, which is one that we really want."

In the biathlon pursuit competition, each of the world's best Para-Nordic athletes do a qualifying round before the finals where they start time-behind-the leader based on the opening-run results. The McKeevers started just over 30 seconds off the podium pace.

"It was a bit of a risk-reward out there," said Brian McKeever, who also recently qualified for Canada's Olympic roster. "We had to make up time skiing and we knew we could ski faster, but that makes shooting much more difficult and it cost us. The crowd was awesome today though and we hope to give back more as the week goes on."

Volodymyr Ivanov guided Vitaliy Lukyanenko of the Ukraine to the top step of the podium in the men's visually impaired division.

Three Canadian Paralympic rookies also had a solid debut while fighting through the blowing snow and thick fog that rolled through the Callaghan Valley near Whistler, B.C. for the biathlon pursuit race.

Robbi Weldon and her guide of Brian Berry, both of Thunder Bay, Ont., matched the McKeever brothers for the top Canadian result of the day after finishing sixth in the women's visually impaired category.

Germany's Thomas Friedrich guided Verena Bentele to the top spot of the women's podium.

Meanwhile, Mark Arendz, of Springton, P.E.I., overcame opening race jitters to post a seventh-place finish in the men's standing category.

"I was happy with my skiing and I think once I shook the nerves a little bit I was able to settle down with my shooting," said Arendz, who lost his arm in a farm accident as a young child and is the only athlete on the national team to be introduced to the sport through the War Amps of Canada. "This is the start of my Paralympic career and hopefully I have lots of races to come. Brian McKeever is my role mode and I hope to follow his career."

Arendz finished 59.8 seconds off the gold-medal pace set by Russia's Kirill Mikhaylov.

Jody Barber, of Smithers, B.C., also squeaked into the top-10 of the women's standing race. Barber, who was a high-performance triathlete before she lost the use of her right arm in an accident, finished three minutes 17.1 seconds off the frontrunners in her opening Paralympic race.

"I am happy with my skiing and wish I could have shot a little better today but the crowd was absolutely electric out there," said Barber. "When you shoot clean, and hearing that roar of the crowd, just gave me so much energy."

Russia's Anna Burmistrova won the women's standing race despite missing three shots in her two trips to the range.

The Nordic events continue on Sunday at Whistler Paralympic Park with the women's 10-kilometre and men's 15-kilometre sit-skiing events.

Cross Country Canada is the governing body of cross-country skiing in Canada. Its 51,000 members include athletes, coaches, officials and skiers of all ages and abilities, including those on Canada's National Ski Teams and Para-Nordic Ski Teams. Cross-country skiing is Canada's optimal winter sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually.


SOURCE Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC)

For further information: For further information: Chris Dornan, Media and Public Relations, Cross Country Canada, T: (281) 703-4394

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