VUOKATTI, Fin.—Canada made two trips to the podium at the IPC Cross-Country Skiing World Championships on Monday. Brian and Robin McKeever teamed up to win a gold medal, while Jody Barber stepped onto the international podium for the first time ever by winning a bronze medal in Vuokatti, Finland.
Brian, along with his guide, Robin McKeever, have won nearly everything available in Para-Nordic sport. The brother tandem destroyed the field by winning the men’s 20-kilometre classic ski race in the visually impaired category by nearly a minute. The McKeevers, who are both recovering from injuries sustained this season, set the time to beat at 52 minutes 35.8 seconds.
“Our bodies felt good and we skied technically well with good pacing so we met our goals today,” said Brian McKeever, of Canmore, Alta. “We were challenged today. This was a very difficult course and was very much like the Canmore World Cup course so it suited us. We hope to maintain this form through the rest of the week.”
Joining the Canadian duo on the podium was Russia’s Nikolay Polukhin and Andrey Tokarev who set the next best time at 53:29.2, while Germany’s Frank Hoefle and Johannes Wachlin were third (55:12.1).
Chris Klebl (USA) just missed the podium in the Men’s LW 10-12 15km event. Klebl finished 4th, 31 seconds out of third. Teammate Sean Halstead was 20th.
Monica Bascio (USA) was 9th in the LW 10-12 women’s 10km.
Legally blind with Stargardt’s disease, which is a form of macular degeneration that affects central vision, Brian McKeever is continuing his quest to become the first winter-sport athlete to compete at both the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2010. If he meets his goal, it will make him only the second athlete ever in the history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to accomplish the feat. Two years ago, Brian finished 24th in an able-bodied men’s 15-kilometer classic ski race at the World Championships.
The medal celebration for Canada didn’t end with the McKeevers on Monday. Jody Barber, of Smithers, B.C., won her first-ever international medal when she crossed the line in third spot in the women’s 15-kilometer standing category. Barber, who is a rookie on the Canadian Para-Nordic Ski Team, stopped the clock at 53:24.2.
“My goal today was to race hard, have no regrets and not to finish last,” said Barber. “My goals have always been performance versus result based so I have both at the end today and that is exciting.”
Growing up with a passion for running and competing in triathlon, Barber thought her competitive sport days were done when she was seriously injured in November of 2006 after a serious cycling accident with a car where she lost her arm.
“A couple of months after my accident, a surgeon told me I would never swim or bike again and now I can do both,” said Barber. “I’m sure he would have been happy to tell me I couldn’t ski either and if I had listened to him, I wonder where I would be now.”
Knocked down, but committed to getting up again after the Doc’s pessimistic comments, Barber contacted Cross Country Canada in the fall of 2007 regarding the possibilities of skiing with one pole.
“I hadn’t heard of Para-Nordic skiing, but figured there had to be someone out there skiing the way I would have too,” said Barber, who admitted to being self-conscious of looking silly while having difficulties with balancing at the beginning with only one pole. “I had no aspirations of winning, but I just wanted to race again and be in the game.”
Defying all odds set by doctors, Barber was thrilled to be standing on the bronze-medal spot of the podium beside Luliia Batenkova, of the Ukraine, who won the gold with a time of 48:49.9 and Anna Burmistrova, of Russia, in the silver-medal position at 50:08.9.
Four other Canadians also suited up on Monday in Finland. Colette Bourgonje, of Saskatoon, finished fourth in the women’s 10-kilometre sit-ski division, while Lou Gibson, of Langley, B.C., was 23rd in the men’s 15-kilometre sit-ski race. Robbi Weldon, of Thunder Bay, Ont., and her guide Remy, were 10th in the women’s 15-kilometre visually impaired category.
The World Championships continue on Wednesday with the cross-country ski relay races. The World Championships will be broadcast daily at www.paralympicsport.tv on the Internet.
Contributing Source: Cross-Country Canada