By Andrew Mitchell
Canada is not known as a strong nation in Nordic skiing, but has made huge leaps in recent years following in the footsteps of Olympic champion Becky Scott.
This year things were particularly tough with Scott retiring after the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, and Olympic medalist Sara Renner taking the season off to give birth to daughter Aria.
Still, the Canadian team made history in just about every event at the 2007 World Championships in Sapporo, Japan — largely due to the participation of Brian McKeever, a visually impaired Paralympic champion who is looking to become the first Paralympian to compete in both the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2010.
Some highlights of the 10 days of competition:
• None of the Canadian sprinters were able to crack the top-30 of the classic sprint race, although Sean Crooks came close in 31 st spot, just 0.25 seconds back of advancing to the next round. Chandra Crawford, the Olympic gold medalist in the skate sprint, is not as strong on classic skis and finished 32 nd .
• The men’s team rebounded the next day in the team skate sprint, placing sixth. The team included Drew Goldsack and Devon Kershaw. The women’s team of Chandra Crawford and Sarah Daitch was 15 th .
• In the 30 km pursuit race, George Grey placed 25 th — the best Canadian result in that event in world championship history. Brian McKeever also became the first Paralympian to ski in a fully able world championship, placing 39 th out of more than 80 qualifiers.
• Brian McKeever turned heads again two days later with a 24 th place finish in the men’s 15 km free — the best result for a Canadian at the world championships. Other Canadians placed well back, with Drew Goldsack in 63 rd .
“Looking at him you would never see the significant challenges he faces each race,” said Tom Holland, high performance director for Cross Country Canada. “Brian has a very difficult time with flat light, snow, and skiing down hills. All of these factors have come into play this week in Japan and he’s still been able to maintain pace with the leaders. It is really an incredible story that is developing on our team.”
• Both men’s and women’s teams struggle in the 4X5km classic relay.
• Dan Roycroft and Brian McKeever come close to cracking the top-30 in the 50 km classic race on Sunday, placing 31 st and 35 th respectively.
The national team, which has mostly stayed in Canada this year with the variable conditions in Europe, will wrap up the last leg of the World Cup tour with events through to the end of March. Only Chandra Crawford, Drew Goldsack and Devon Kershaw qualified.