Visually-impaired skier may make history

Canadian skier Brian McKeever could be the first athlete to compete in both the Paralympics and Olympics. / AP photo

CANMORE, Alberta (AP) " Visually impaired cross-country skier Brian McKeever is a step closer to becoming the first winter athlete to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics.

McKeever won an able-bodied 50-kilometer NorAm race on Tuesday, a result he needed to be eligible for Canada's Olympic team.

But the number of spots on the Olympic roster hasn't been confirmed. It will be up to Canada's cross-country governing body next month if McKeever will race the 50K in Whistler in February.

"It's the best race I could lay down today, and whatever happens, happens," McKeever said. "That's all you can ask to have, the best race on the day when it matters."

He crossed in 2 hours, 21 minutes, 8.5 seconds and won by more than 12 seconds.

"It's out of my hands now," McKeever said. "The goal was to try and win this particular race. I've prepared all year for it, even four years for it. I figured this was my shot, the 50k race."

McKeever has won seven Paralympic medals, including four gold. He has Stargardt's disease, an inherited condition of macular degeneration that also claimed his father's eyesight. His vision is less than 10 percent and all of it peripheral.

"The message is, you put your mind to it and you work really hard for it you can do anything," McKeever said.

Five athletes " all in summer sports " have competed in the Paralympics and Olympics: South African swimmer Natalie du Toit (amputee), American runner Marla Runyan (visually impaired), Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka (born without right hand and forearm), Italian archer Paola Fantato (polio) and New Zealand archer Neroli Fairhall (paraplegic).

"Ever since I was a little kid watching the 1988 Games in Calgary and coming out here to the Canmore Nordic Centre, watching a couple of races, that was pretty neat," McKeever said. "To have a home games again in Canada, Olympics and Paralympics, it's just fantastic."

McKeever hopes he's proving there isn't much of a gap between Olympians and Paralympians.

"I would hope that will send that message," he said. "We've got a good product at the Paralympic Games and it's good competition. It's tight racing and everybody is training the same as their able-bodied counterparts.

"With a visual disability, the body is still 100 percent so I can push it pretty hard on the uphills. It shows we're in top physical condition as well and hopefully people will come out and watch the Paralympics in 2010 in Vancouver."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.