Saturday, February 27, 2010

Blind skier, who was set to be first person to compete in Winter Olympics, Paralympics, won't ski for Canada

From The Associated Press:

WHISTLER, British Columbia -- A legally blind Canadian cross-country skier who was poised to become the first winter sports athlete to compete in both the Paralympics and the Olympics will not ski Feb. 28, a team spokesman said.

Brian McKeever was supposed to compete in the 50-kilometer mass start classic race. The 30-year-old suffers from a degenerative eye condition knows as Stargardt's disease, and received international praise when he was named to the Canadian team.

A team spokesman said in an e-mail to the Canadian Press that McKeever would not start. Instead, the team will race Alex Harvey, Ivan Babikov, Devon Kershaw and George Grey. Under International Ski Federation rules, the team can only enter four skiers.

"No start for Brian," wrote spokesman Chris Dornan.

The team's coaches have said they would decide who raced based on ability. Coach Inge Braten said the other four competitors are faster.

"Normally all four are faster than Brian ... They can fight for a medal, all four of them," Braten said.

McKeever has explained his condition as permanent "flashbulb eye," similar to the blur that appears in a person's vision after posing for a picture. But he still has his peripheral vision, so he can see what he needs to by looking around it.

In Paralympic competitions, he relied on a guide on the course who went ahead of him and showed him the way. Without a guide at the Olympics, he had planned to find a skier of similar speed to follow.