VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Brian McKeever became the first athlete to gain selection for a Winter Olympics and a Paralympics in the same year when he was included in a strong Canadian cross country team for next month’s Vancouver Games.
McKeever, who suffers from Stargardt’s disease and is legally blind, effectively booked his place on the 11-member squad by winning an able-bodied 50-km race in Canmore, Alberta last month.
The 30-year-old Canmore skier, who will also represent his country at the Paralympic Winter Games in March, was delighted with his double selection.
“It’s important for people to know the Paralympics is as high as it gets,” McKeever said in a statement released by Cross Country Canada on Friday.
“It is the Olympic Games for people with physical disabilities and I hope people will realize through my story the gap is not that big. Just because somebody has a disability doesn’t mean they are not training hard or are extremely fit.
“I think the Paralympics is a great product. We have something worth watching and I hope my story will bring more attention to that.”
McKeever, who because of macular degeneration has only 10 percent vision which is limited to peripheral, has won seven Paralympic medals alongside his brother Robin who acts as his guide.
At the Vancouver Games, however, McKeever will have to race alone.
Ten other skiers were named on the Canadian team on Friday, including former Olympic medalists Chandra Crawford and Sara Renner and World Cup veterans Devon Kershaw, George Grey and Ivan Babikov.
Crawford, 26, won gold in the individual sprint at the 2006 Turin Games although she will have to contend with the classical format in Vancouver.
All-rounder Kershaw, a winner of three World Cup medals, spearheads a six-member men’s team widely regarded as the strongest fielded by Canada.
Distance specialist Babikov, who won a gold medal in the final stage of last year’s Tour de Ski, raced for Russia at the 2006 Olympics before becoming a Canadian citizen in 2008.
Grey landed a bronze medal in the team sprint at last year’s World Cup at Whistler Olympic Park and, like Babikov, will be appearing at his second Winter Games.
“We have seen through the development of our men’s program that our guys are now racing to be among the best in the world,” Cross Country Canada high-performance director Tom Holland said.
“This is truly one of the most talented Olympic Teams Canada has ever assembled.”
In addition to the Olympic gold and silver medals won by Crawford and Renner at the 2006 Games, Canada’s squad includes seven athletes with a combined total of 15 World Cup medals.
Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles, editing by Tony Jimenez