Whitehorse ski guide Graham Nishikawa helped his decorated teammate Brian McKeever cement his place in history as the country’s most decorated Paralymic Winter Games athlete.
In the first race of the Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang, McKeever and his team of guides raced to the top of the podium in the 20-kilometre free visually impaired race.
With his first medal of the Games, McKeever now has 14 Olympic medals – 11 of which are gold.
The Canadian team decided to split the guide duties during the race between Nishikawa and secondary guide Russell Kennedy.
Nishikawa said following the race they decided to implement this unique strategy as a way to keep up a higher speed with McKeever throughout the entirety of the race.
“We have the hardest job here. Brian is world class. He is so fast that we have to drive a really hard pace into the wind because we know he is always going to be there, so it is hard for us to keep the pace going,” Nishikawa said in a press release this morning. “Using two fresh guides helps us keep a higher speed throughout the race. We all talked about
the plan last night. We didn’t know exactly where the switch would happen, but we knew Russell would come in for a lap.”
Competing in his second Paralympic Games with McKeever, Nishikawa started the race with the veteran as they jumped out to an early lead at the first checkpoint and never looked back. Nishikawa traded off with Kennedy just before the 10-kilometre mark who raced with McKeever through the midway point of the race before Nishikawa re-joined the legend for the final five-kilometre lap.
McKeever and Nishikawa came into the stadium to capture the record-setting gold medal in a time of 46:02, over a minute ahead of silver medallist Yury Holub from Belarus. French skier Thomas Clarion claimed the bronze.
“It was super good today. Thanks to our wax techs, and both of these guides, they all did an awesome job today,” McKeever said in the release. “It is super windy out there so to be able to tuck in behind these big boys is important for me. They pushed hard, skied well and towed me along the whole way.”
McKeever, who also led the Canadian team into the Games as the opening ceremonies flag bearer, has won seven straight individual Paralympic races dating back to the 2006 Games in Italy.
“It was touch and go there for a bit, but we did enough in the middle to build a nice cushion, and we were able to manage it and hang on,” he said of the record-setting race.
In his fifth Games, the skier will now look ahead to the 1.5-kilometre sprint classic race Tuesday night.
Nishikawa and McKeever won the sprint race gold medal in Sochi, which was the first Paralympic race the duo skied together.
In 2014, Nishikawa was the secondary guide before becoming the primary guide later in the season gearing toward these Games.
The final individual race for McKeever and Nishikawa will be the 10-km classic race Friday evening.
With the gold medal, McKeever surpassed para-alpine skier Lana Spreeman for the most all-time medals won by a Canadian Paralympian at the Winter Games. Spreeman won a total of 13 medals in her five Paralympic appearances.