Gold medallist Brian McKeever, of Canmore, will carry Canada’s flag in Friday’s opening ceremonies of the Pyeongchang Paralympics. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Cross-country skier McKeever to carry Canada’s flag into opening ceremonies

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — Ten-time gold medallist Brian McKeever will carry Canada’s flag in Friday’s opening ceremonies of the Pyeongchang Paralympics.

The 38-year-old visually impaired skier from Canmore, Alta., has owned the top of the medal podium, going undefeated in Paralympic competition since 2006.

“It’s a big honour, it’s a big deal,” McKeever said of being named flag-bearer. “The timing was good, it’s the end of my career, so it’s all these things kind of coming together. So it is pretty exciting to have the opportunity.”

McKeever, who will lead a team of 55 athletes and guides into Pyeongchang Stadium, was poised to make history in 2010 in Vancouver at the world’s first athlete to compete in both the winter Olympics and Paralympics in the same year. But Canada’s Olympic cross-country coaches opted to enter four other skiers in the men’s 50-kilometre race and not McKeever.

Still, he made history as the first Canadian to be named to both a Paralympic and Olympic team in the same year, and a few weeks after the Olympics, he shrugged off his heartbreak by racing to three Paralympic gold medals.

Four years ago in Sochi, McKeever got tangled up with a Russian skier near the start of the one-kilometre race, but clambered back to his feet and he and guide Graham Nishikawa caught up to win gold.

McKeever competed in cross-country skiing from the age of 13, and raced at the world junior championships in 1998. A year later, at the age of 19, he started to lose his eyesight and was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease, an inherited condition of macular degeneration that also claimed his father’s vision.

He roared to a pair of gold medals in his Paralympic debut in 2002 in Salt Lake City, and would race to eight more over four Paralympics, plus a pair of silver medals and two bronze.

He’s also racked up 19 world titles, including two in February 2017 over 10 and 20 kilometres.

McKeever’s 10 Paralympic golds match the amount earned by wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc and swimmers Michael Edgson and Timothy McIsaac.

The skier said his competitive spirit may show itself during the closing ceremonies.

“Racer mentality probably means I’ll be catching the teams in front,” he said. ”I think there will probably be people there to keep me in place. Which is good… Blind guy will just wander all over.”

McKeever has called American distance runner Marla Runyan, who also has Stargardt’s disease, one of his idols. Runyan was competitive against both visually impaired and able-bodied runners, racing to five Paralympic titles and an eighth-place finish at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She won the 1,500 metres at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg.

McKeever’s older brother Robin competed at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, then raced as Brian’s guide before becoming the para-Nordic head coach.

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