Golden goodbye: Canada’s Brian McKeever victorious in final individual Paralympic race

Canada’s Brian McKeever is going out on top.

The 42-year-old won his final individual Paralympic race on Saturday in Beijing, taking the gold medal in the men’s visually impaired middle-distance cross-country event.

McKeever announced before Beijing 2022 that he was planning to retire following these Games.

His latest podium appearance is the 20th of his career, and his 16th gold — moving him into a tie for most titles won by a male winter Paralympian with German alpine skier Gerd Schoenfelder.

“I think it was because they gave me the right bib today,” McKeever, who wore bib No. 16, said laughing.

Led by guide Graham Nishikawa, the Canmore, Alta., native posted a winning time of 33 minutes 6.6 seconds, well ahead of Sweden’s silver medallist Zebastian Modin (33:59.1) and bronze medallist Dmytro Suiarko of Ukraine (34:08.1).

WATCH | McKeever races to gold:

Brian McKeever claims gold in last solo Paralympic race

Cross-country skier Brian McKeever from Canmore, Alta., wins his 16th Paralympic gold medal and 20th overall with a victory in the men’s visually impaired middle-distance cross-country event. 3:56

McKeever, who left the start gate last of 16 competitors, overtook the pace set by the leader American Jake Adicoff around halfway through the 12.5 kilometers and passed most of the other athletes on the course, ultimately crossing the finish line fourth of the skiers.

In the moments following the race, a worn-out Nishikawa collapsed to the snow with exhaustion as McKeever remained standing and laughing with his guide before reaching down to help him up.

“Graham did an awesome job. We just nailed it right off the start. You could just see it; it was the right pace,” McKeever said.

McKeever helps Nishikawa up just after crossing the finish line. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

While it was his final individual race, McKeever, who competes in the least severe classification of the visually impaired category, will be back on his skis for one final event in the team relay on Sunday.

McKeever’s accomplishments are astonishing, but he told CBC Sports in a recent interview that it’s the work and training he’s put into sport since his Paralympic debut in 2002 that he cherishes most.

“The motivation’s always come from within. It’s always been about trying to push myself to be just a little bit better each year than I was the last and experiment with the training, and that’s what I like to do,” McKeever said.

Asked if he may be tempted to come back for Italy 2026, McKeever spoke about how the injuries that have piled up thoughout the years would make that difficult.

“We’re breaking down. We still love getting out together but it’s getting harder. I think if we end up back here trying to race in four years, we’ll be coming in on canes,” McKeever said.

Still, he didn’t deny enjoying the competition.

He’s now won all three of his individual races at each of the last four Paralympics.

“I always joke that it’s like making a big presentation to the moguls. It’s not a lot of fun while you’re doing it but if it goes well then you celebrate after,” McKeever said of competing on the sport’s biggest stage.

Well, the presentation is nearly over. It’s almost time to celebrate.

WATCH | What you missed on Day 7 of the Paralympics:

While You Were Sleeping: Canada earns spot in Para hockey final, sees success on the slops and ice

Mark Arendz, Brittany Hudak, Tyler Turner, Mollie Jepsen and Canada’s wheelchair curling team all made the podium last night. Catch up on everything you missed with CBC Sports’ Jacqueline Doorey. 3:21

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