As much as anyone might begrudge Team Canada coaches Dave Wood and National Inge Braten’s decision to sit Brian McKeever in Sunday’s 50 k classic, it’s hard to disagree with the fact that the two were presented with an agonizing choice.
While starting McKeever would have meant making history—the Canadian would have been the first athlete to compete in both the winter Olympics and Paralympics—it also would have meant holding a potential medal contender out of the race. Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, George Grey, and Ivan Babikov are all skiing well, and each has a legitimate—if small—chance for the podium in the 50 k.
Wood said that he expected for one of those four to be run down by this point, two weeks into the Games—that’s why there was a reasonable belief that McKeever would get a start in the first place.
“Normally, that happens,” he said. “Since 2003, I don’t think we’ve ever made four guys in the 50 k. There’s always something [that] happens—guys run out of gas, they get sick, they get hurt.”
But with those four all healthy and fired up to compete, Wood said that there’s no holding them back. And at this level, the only kind of history coaches get credit for making is when they win.
“It’s quite hard for us to put guys that are skiing, you know, they’ve all been top-ten—to put them on the bench,” he said. “It’s nothing against Brian, but they’re better.”
While McKeever may have won the 50 k at the Canadian Olympic team trials in December, none of the four starters for Sunday’s event competed in that race.
Wood downplayed the significance of the whole situation, saying that all the attention turns it into a “sideshow,” and distracts from the team’s main focus.
“It’s not really making history—he’s been at World Championships, he’s been on the World Cup,” he said. “It’s something that I think [is] difficult to manage in the team, too, because we’re here to race at the Olympics.”
While a start for McKeever would hold significance for the media, he added, “tomorrow that’s gone—and we can’t sell that to anybody.”
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.