Brian McKeever is one individual race shy of a Paralympic record, and of retirement

Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics - Day 3
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Millions of Americans were introduced to Brian McKeever (and his older brother, Robin) during last month’s Super Bowl, when Paralympic sponsor Toyota aired a one-minute ad summing their athletic journey.

Many Canadians, and those in the international cross-country skiing world, were already aware of his accomplishments.

McKeever, 42, is competing in what he says will be his sixth and final Paralympics this week. He already has two gold medals in China, upping his career count to 15, one shy of the men’s record held by German Gerd Schönfelder, an Alpine skier who competed in six Winter Games from 1992-2010.

McKeever previously swept the three individual golds in the men’s visually impaired classification in 2010, 2014 and 2018. He gets the chance to do so again on Saturday, but he’s not dwelling on the opportunity to match Schönfelder’s record in the last individual Paralympic race of his career.

“I’ve never thought about any of them,” McKeever said of medal chasing after winning his most recent gold in his toughest event, the sprint, by eight tenths of a second over American Jake Adicoff on Wednesday. Earlier this week, McKeever said, “If we win, we’ll take it, if we’re fourth, then that’s the beauty and the pain of sport, you just turn around and shake everybody else’s hands because they beat you.”

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The “we” has long been key for McKeever, who has competed with a guide for more than 20 years.

A skier at 3, and a competitive skier at 12, by his late teens he was having trouble reading billboards from the car window. He was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a degenerative form of vision loss, at 19.

“If you stare at the sun for a long time and turn away, you get these fuzzy spots,” McKeever said, according to the Canadian Paralympic Committee. “Well for me, the fuzzy spots don’t go away.”

Or, as he once said, “I can see the doughnut, but not the Timbit,” referring to the famous Canadian Tim Hortons pastry.

McKeever said losing his eyesight would have been tougher if not a role model like his dad, who was previously diagnosed with it as a younger child.

Before his diagnosis, McKeever was already competing internationally, following in Robin’s path. He continued to race fellow Olympic hopefuls on the International Ski Federation circuit, at least one stop every year from 1997 through 2022.

In 2007, McKeever was 21st in the world cross-country skiing championships 15km freestyle, three spots ahead of future Norwegian Olympic legend Petter Northug and four spots ahead of Italian Giorgio Di Centa, who won the closing 50km at the 2006 Torino Games.

At the time, McKeever’s preferred technique in non-disabled competition was classic, not freestyle, because of the established ski tracks making it easier to stay on course without a guide.

Brother Robin, a 1998 Olympic cross-country skier, was his guide at his first three Paralympics in 2002, 2006 and 2010. Guides can ski in front, acting as a reference point, and also receive medals.

“There were only four or five people in the country who could have gotten the job and been an effective guide for me,” McKeever said. “One of those people was Robin.”

For the 2010 Vancouver Games, McKeever also made the Canadian Olympic team, bidding to become the first athlete to compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

However, he wasn’t selected to compete in any Olympic event. He missed selection for the four-man team in the closing 50km by one spot, learning of the decision the day before the race. McKeever said he was crushed by the coaches’ choice, but he understood.

A month later, McKeever began his streak that is now up to 11 gold medals in his last 11 individual cross-country races at the Paralympics. Robin is now his coach. Graham Nishikawa and 2018 Olympian Russell Kennedy have been his guides over the last two Games.

He announced in October 2020 that these Games would be his last. Earlier this week, he called it “a soft retiring.”

“I want to fade away slowly,” said McKeever, who has also worked as a mechanic, able to assemble bikes with his eyes closed. “We are still competitive, but I’m breaking down. You wake up in pain, you go to bed in pain, so it’s certainly time.”

He has to get up for one more individual event, a middle-distance race on Saturday. The American Adicoff, who is 16 years younger, will be waiting for him, looking to deny history.

“We want it badly,” Adicoff said after Wednesday’s close sprint. “[McKeever] is standing right there. I am not sure if he can hear us, but we want it badly.”

NBC Olympic and Paralympic research contributed to this report.

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Saudi Arabia to host 2029 Asian Winter Games

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Saudi Arabia will host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 in mountains near the $500 billion futuristic city project Neom.

The Olympic Council of Asia on Tuesday picked the Saudi candidacy that centers on Trojena that is planned to be a year-round ski resort by 2026.

“The deserts & mountains of Saudi Arabia will soon be a playground for Winter sports!” the OCA said in a statement announcing its decision.

Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal said the kingdom’s winter sports project “challenges perception” in a presentation of the plan to OCA members.

“Trojena is the future of mountain living,” the minister said of a region described as an area of about 60 square kilometers at altitude ranging from 1,500 to 2,600 meters.

The Neom megaproject is being fund by the Saudi sovereign wealth vehicle, the Public Investment Fund.

Saudi Arabia also will host the Asian Games in 2034 in Riyadh as part of aggressive moves to build a sports hosting portfolio and help diversify the economy from reliance on oil.

A campaign to host soccer’s 2030 World Cup is expected with an unprecedented three-continent bid including Egypt and Greece.

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Jim Redmond, who helped son Derek finish 1992 Olympic race, dies

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Jim Redmond, who helped his injured son, Derek, finish his 1992 Olympic 400m semifinal, died at age 81 on Sunday, according to the British Olympic Association, citing family members.

At the 1992 Barcelona Games, Derek pulled his right hamstring 15 seconds into his 400m semifinal, falling to the track in anguish.

He brushed off help from officials, got up and began limping around the track. About 120 meters from the finish line, he felt the presence of an uncredentialed man who rushed down the stadium stairs, dodged officials and said, “We started this together, and we’re going to finish this together,” according to Olympedia.org.

“As I turned into the home straight, I could sense this person was about to try and stop me,” Derek said in an NBC Olympics profile interview before the 2012 London Games. “I was just about to get ready to sort of fend them off, and then I heard a familiar voice of my dad. He said, ‘Derek, it’s me. You don’t need to do this.'”

Derek said he shouted to his dad that he wanted to finish the race.

“He was sort of saying things like, ‘You’ve got nothing to prove. You’re a champion. You’ll come back. You’re one of the best guys in the world. You’re a true champion. You’ve got heart. You’re going to get over this. We’ll conquer the world together,'” Derek remembered. “I’m just sort of saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.'”

At one point, Derek noticed stadium security, not knowing who Jim was, having removed guns from their holsters.

“It’s the only time I’ve ever heard my dad use bad language,” Derek said. “He just goes, ‘Leave him alone, I’m his father.'”

Derek told himself in that moment, “I’m going to finish this race if it’s the last race I ever run.” It turned out to be the last 400m race of his career, after surgery and 18 months of rehab were not enough to yield a competitive comeback, according to Sports Illustrated.

Derek had missed the 1988 Seoul Games after tearing an Achilles, reportedly while warming up for his opening race. He looked strong in Barcelona, winning his first-round heat and quarterfinal.

“I’d rather be seen to be coming last in the semifinal than not finish in the semifinal,” he said, “because at least I can say I gave it my best.”