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Brian McKeever’s disappointment

Canada’s blind cross-country skier told he won’t participate in men’s 50 km race


 

Brian McKeever hoped to make Olympic history. Now he’s not even sure if he’ll stay until the end of the Games.

The 30-year-old Calgarian was the last man to qualify for Canada’s cross-country team, punching his ticket at the Olympics trials in Canmore in Dec., with a surprise first-place finish in the 50 km race.

It’s not the sort of accomplishment the media normally takes note of, but McKeever’s story was a little different. Legally blind—he suffers from Stargardt’s disease, the most common form of inherited juvenile macular degeneration, and has only 10 per cent vision—he was already an accomplished Paralympian, the winner of four gold, two silver and a bronze at the 2002 and 2006 Paralympic Winter Games. Now he had a chance to do what no one else had ever done before: compete in both Winter events.

But late last night, that dream came to an end. His coach, Inge Braten, accompanied by the team’s head coach Dave Wood, and Tom Holland, Cross-Country Canada’s high-performance director, met with him to break the bad news. McKeever will not be among Canada’s four skiers entered in Sunday’s 50km event, the final race of the Games.

The decision said Braten was made strictly on performance. Between them, Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, Ivan Babikov and George Grey have six Top-10 finishes at these Games.

“I have to be professional,” said Braten. “I have to use my four best men in an Olympics in Canada.”

He spoke a similar situation when he was coaching in his native Norway during the Lillehammer Games. One member of that powerhouse team was the fifth best skier in every discipline. And consequently he never got a chance to perform in front of his home crowd.

Still this choice was harder, Braten allowed. McKeever cried and so did he.

“That was really the hardest, the hardest ever,” he said. “I hope I don’t ever do it again.”

Braten even petitioned the FIS, the international skiing federation, to make an exception and allow Canada to have five entrants in the 50km. “I asked for it for human reasons, and [because] this is in Canada.” The federation refused, as Braten admits, he was almost certain they would.

But there is no way to put a positive spin on such a heartbreaking choice. McKeever’s own expectations that he would race, despite his status as an alternate on the team, were high. And they were fueled, in part, by Cross-Country Canada’s choice to pump the feel-good story. National and international media couldn’t get enough of it. There’s even an inspiring Visa TV commercial about McKeever with Morgan Freeman doing the voice-over.

Earlier in the week, there had been talk of giving McKeever a spot in the team sprint event. But that was scrubbed on performance grounds—Devon Kershaw eventually filled it, and he and Alex Harvey just missed the podium, placing fourth. However, Braten admits that wasn’t the only consideration. CTV had no plans to broadcast the sprint preliminaries, and it was doubtful McKeever—not a natural sprinter—and Harvey could have been among the top 30, and advance to the next, televised round.

“You have a lot of politics in Canada. I can’t understand the politics in sport in Canada,” said Braten.

When McKeever came out to meet the press today, just after the start of the women’s 30 km race, he was classy, but obviously crushed.

“I respect the decision, but I don’t have to be happy about it,” he said. “I understand it. Our boys are racing so fast, and they deserve everything they get.”

McKeever said he doesn’t expect, or even want, one of his teammates to step aside. He made the Olympic team on his own merits, and hoped to race for the same reason.

“The qualification in itself was a big victory. But it didn’t end up the way I wanted,” he said, pausing to wipe away some tears.

As of today, he is not sure if he will attend Sunday’s race and cheer on his teammates. His new focus is on his first Paralympic race, March 9, along with his sighted guide, and brother, Robin.

Four years from now in Sochi, he hopes to be back. And at least get another chance to fulfill his dream.


 

Brian McKeever’s disappointment

  1. He qualified for the 50 k and should have been allowed to compete. The other guys are 30k skiers which isn't the same training or endurance. I think what they did to him was just plain WRONG, especially the promotion of the feel good story. Brian is an inspiration to many. This really put a damper on the Games for me.

  2. this is a shame, one of the team should have been a bigger person and stepped aside, they have all been unbelievably good in this Olympics and deserve amazing credit for what they have achieved, but this is a poor decision and one of the best feel good stories of the Olympics is thrown into the trash bin, shame on the coaches, this could have been handled much better!!

  3. Brian McKeever has earned the right to compete in the 50km race tomorrow…it is an outrage that the decision to allow his place to be taken up by team members whose specialties are not in this distance. I have tickets to tomorrow's race and may not go because I am so upset…

    We love you Brian.

    Kristen, Whistler BC

  4. McKeever should've been allowed to compete. The games shouldn't be about winning a medal but instead is about the human spirit to compete. McKeever is truly a representative of what the Olympics should be about. He's showing that you don't have to be able bodied in order to be considered an Olympian or to follow a dream. If only the coaches of the Canadian team were to set aside their prejudices long enough to learn from this lesson.

    McKeever is truly an inspiration to a lot of people both able bodied and non-able bodied. I'm from the United States and I was looking forward to seeing McKeever compete. I guess we should all thank the coaches for crushing that plan as McKeever's story was very inspiring and shows us all the true spirit of the games which apparently has gotten squelched. I guess the coaches of the Canadian cross country ski team should be thanked for not only killing the dreams of McKeever but also those who hoped to watch him race.

  5. Brian McKeever himself acknowledged that the coach made the right decision – its about who deserves to be there based on who is fastest or most capable. It seems a lot of people are having an emotional response to this and then reacting…but think about it: Don't all the other athletes have dreams of winning gold themselves? How fair is it to force one of them to sit down just so we can all feel good about the disabled guy having a chance to win gold? Just because his story was broadcasted into everyone's home and not for the ordinary, non-disabled skiers? That's just reverse discrimination..I don't think we should be sending the message that if you're disabled you get special consideration.

    I mean the whole reason why this was a big deal in the first place was because someone with such a disability managed to qualify in the olympics based on his own merits. Would you really want to take away the whole meaning behind that accomplishment because you feel sorry for him, or kick out someone who is better because "Canada will feel better if we put you in, this isn't really about how good you are, but about making it seem like some heroic fantasy story that everyone will watch and applaud" THAT would be taking away his dream, and make it feel fake and hollow.

    If you want the olympics to mean something for people who earn the right to be there, I think its best to respect the coach's experience on this matter, who clearly didn't take this decision lightly but, carefully and rationally. Besides, the fact that he qualified in the first place is a great achievement. But remember why it was an achievement. Not because we placed him there because we felt sorry for him. But because he earned it. And so do all others, disabled or not.

    • I agree with Adrien22 and I think that we are putting the blame in the wrong place. The FIS, for reasons of fairness I am sure, refused a 5th spot – and I can understand its reasoning. It is within their right of course, but boy, it sure hurts the image of the sport in Canada and abroad. Makes me wonder really about this idea of sportsmanship, we seem to have left this aside in the interest of connectedness and rules. Contrasted against the fact that we have known dopers who have been allowed back into these Olympics after serving their penalties and … well, enough said. There seems to be a tremendous lack of leadership these days in sport generally.

      • @stu. I don't understand your response. It doesn't sound like you agree with adrien22, and no one is blaming the FIS.

        The question boils down to whether you think it was right to sub out a blind skier who has overcome much adversity and was a great story, with a skier who, in the estimations of the coach, has a marginally better chance of a higher place.

        Personally I would have loved to see Brian ski. That being said, once the coaching staff make their decision, no other athlete should be obliged to give up their spot and Brian should stay to cheer on his teammates.

    • Incorrect. He did not say the coach made the correct decision. He said it was up to the coach to make a decision – but he felt he deserved to race.

      This has nothing to do with giving an undeserving athlete a spot as a feel-good story. Brian qualified and has a better record over 50 km races than 2 members of the team that were chosen. Brian finished 21st in the world in this race two years ago at the world championship.

      The decision stinks and has more to do with the Canadian coaches favoring the current world cup team (Brian is not a member this year).

      The coaches are clearly bush-league, and so is their organizaiton.

      • To skier_fan I do not think you know what you are talking about. I do not think anyone who has followed skiing in Canada could argue that Brian would be a better choice then either of these four. Many people posting here do not realize that those 4 were already pre qualified for the olympics and did not race the 50km qualifying race that Brian won. Alex, Devon and Ivan all have proven better 50km results then Brian. Maybe George did not, but he is obviously skiing better than he ever has and was our second strongest skier on the day. Ironically the person they would have probably sat out would have been Devon and everyone saw how he did. Furthermore it is unlikely that Brian would have placed better than either Ivan or Alex did in this race (though it is possible).

  6. What a kick in the gonads. What aweful news this is for Canada. This isn't about putting the best player in the Canadian hockey team that's going to play the US for a chance at a gold medal. It's about a skier who qualified for an event that will be overshadowed by hockey (of course), figure skated and speed skating. He deserves to live out his olympic dreams as did the others on his team. It's a long shot the team will make a podium placing anyway and a week after the games no one will remember their names or care. If McKeever races he and the cross country team will be talked about in the next winter Olympics. Already our games have been a wild and great success, come on coaches, stop being so greedy and let one of the greatest olympic stories unfold. McKeever is a great skier and deserves to show off.

  7. It is absolutely disappointing that Brian McKeever was cut from skiing tomorrow in the 50k run. He worked just as hard to get there and deserves the right to live out his olympic dream. All other skiers have already had their opportunity to ski and live out their dream and none of them even did very well. They put up so much hype about him being the first to compete in both the paralympics and olympics and now they are taking that away from him. Talk about kicking someone when they feel like they are about to accomplish the greatest thing ever. Based on the previous runs that these skiers have already competed in, it's not like Canada even stands a chance. So why not put Brian in?? It would be Brian that people will remember and talk about for years to come, whether he wins and loses. Not the other skiers who aren't going to place anyway. Four years of hard work and hopes just tossed away. Sounds like a case of discrimination to me. I can't believe that people can be so low and heartless. This was something I looked forward to watching too, and now I am not even remotely interested.

  8. Cross Country Canada, coaching staff and the 4 other guys need to make a public apology in front of the media to Mckeever.____1) 5th place, 18th, 22 and 30ish place Wow, big deal. The well rested Mckeever could have done that or even better.__2) Why did Cross Country Canada parade Mckeever in front of the Media prior to the regular games? Feel good story? __3) How can Mckeever concentrate now on his para-games? He's a top athlete, but how can someone get over this mentally? If Cross Country Canada were never to allow him to race, then Don't set him up for failure.____5) I hope Mckeever has dual citizenship elsewhere, so he could get another shot in a different country at the regular games.__7) All the coaching staff and anybody behind the scene who made the decision should all be fired.__8) Lets think about the Future: What does this do to future para-athletes, who could also compete at the regular games? Would they ever accept another invitation to join the regular team. Why would they? They don't want to be lied to and get ripped off.__Those 4 guys are a disgrace to the Olympic spirit.____

    • How can he concentrate on his para-games? You write that after what Joannie Rochette did?? If he can't it is just further justifaction for NOT putting him on the final 50K roster.

      This banter is ridiculous. If he wasn't disabled it would be non-story.

      This is sports… triumph and heartbreak. It's all part of the package and if you can't take it you shouldn't be a competitor.

  9. These atheletes had a chance to show Canada and the world true olympic spirit. Instead of selfishly seeking unattainable glory, they had a chance to be remembered for something other than crossing the finish line last on tired legs. I am so proud of my country, but today, ashamed of Canadians. For those of you who support the coaches, and the atheletes decision….shame on you. You names would have been long remembered for doing the right thing…but now, you will be remembered for your selfish act. Cross Country is a again dead in Canada.

    • Shame on YOU for wanting to guilt people into giving up a spot in the Olympics, which they have righfully earned. This is not the after school special, it is the Olympics, suposedly the height of competition. It seems like you just want a heart-warming story to follow for a couple of days, but you have no understanding of the coaches and Cross Country canada's responsibility to put out the best possible team.

      • lol….33rd place on tired legs, after competing in 3 events but not enough of a man to admit it. After school special? He won the 50 km at the trials! The athelete that gave up his spot would have been remembered as a hero in canadian Olympic history and not for a pathetic finish 6 minutes back.

  10. We'll take him for the USA. Brian is a great guy and a great skier. He would have been a great asset to any team on that day. Plus with them all skiing in a pack, Brian would have been amazing. I have seen him ski in a pack many times. Canada took a huge step backwards in my opinion.

  11. McKeever had fresh legs and is a specialist in the 50K distance – harvey is a nice kid, and a sprinter. He showed that in his finish position in the 30s.
    Canada had not a hope for a medal, and the political decision of denying McKeever what is likely to be his only chance to race in the olympics (he is 30) was ill conceived, short sighted, and completely contrary to the intent of the olympic games. The games are about fair competition, not glory hounding for medals and funding.

    McKeever was trotted out to the media in a quest to boost the profile of cross-country in Canada, and he was denied the chance to compete in another attempt to boost the profile of the sport. He has been sorely used and abused by cross-country canada, the coaches, and the team. It makes me heart sick for him and ashamed of my sport and my country.

    • Ah, Harvey has Canada's best 50km result since his Dad won the Holmenkole in 1988, 3rd in WC 50km in trodheim last year. You do not know what you are talking about.

      The only thing mishandled in this situation was CCC hyping Brian's story and not being clear that he may not race, but I don't think anyone would have thought that our 4 fastest skiers would have still been healthy and still skiing fast after a week of racing. That almost never happens.

  12. McKeever embodied the Olympic ideals of faster, higher, stronger by overcoming his disabilities to become an elite athlete. He was the "franchise player" on our no-name cross-country team; he should have skied, period.

    His performance in the 50km cross would have lifted the spirit of all the other Canadian athletes and likely would have performed better than the worn-out skiers who were not trained for the 50km distance.

    Brian McKeever might be legally blind, but it was Coach Ingewhore Braten who could not see the bigger picture. A CANADIAN Olympic official should have overridden the Norwegian's coach decision for the good of our nation. Braten is the one who should have been the one thrown under the bus, not McKeever.

  13. There's always a second chance in everything. Good luck.

  14. It's worth the try especially when they end up competing for each other.

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