Winter Paralympics: Ukraine claim 10th gold as Brian McKeever makes history

Brian McKeever was already a Winter Paralympic legend for Canada, but he sealed it on Saturday morning with a third gold of these Beijing Games, his 16th career gold and 20th Paralympics medal overall.

The 42-year-old skier won the men’s vision impaired middle distance cross-country race at the Zhangjiakou National Biathlon centre. At his sixth Games, incredibly he now hasn’t lost an individual race at a Paralympics since 2006. That 16th gold puts him equal with Germany’s para alpine skier Gerd Schönfelder as the person with the most Paralympics golds.

Elsewhere in the cross-country skiing, there were yet more medals for China as the middle-distance sitting event for women went to Yang Hongqiong, and Mao Zhongwu took the gold in the men’s race. Oksana Masters finished with a silver in the women’s event to become the most decorated US Paralympics cross-country skier.

Canada’s Brian McKeever follows his guide, Graham Nishikawa, to another gold in Beijing. Photograph: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images

In the women’s 10km freestyle standing race, Ukraine’s Oleksandra Kononova scored what could be a crucial victory for the final medal table. Her time of 43:01.2 meant she edged out Natalie Wilkie of Canada by just 1.9 seconds, and that was Ukraine’s tenth gold of these games. Another Ukrainian, Iryna Bui, came third having beaten her compatriot to gold in the 10km biathlon earlier this week.

Canada lie third in the medal table with eight golds, with China way in front of every other nation though, both in terms of gold medals – 18 – and in medals overall. China’s total of 58 medals equates to nearly a quarter of all the medals that have been available in Beijing.

China had previously only ever won one Winter Paralympics medal in five appearances since they first sent a team to Salt Lake City in 2002. That one medal had been gold in the wheelchair curling in Pyeongchang, and the Chinese team successfully defended their title with an 8-3 victory over Sweden in the final. They also took the bronze medal in the para ice hockey on Saturday with a 4-0 win over South Korea.

On the slopes at the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre it was another family celebration for Austria’s Aigner sisters, as Veronika Aigner took gold in the women’s visually impaired slalom, guided by her older sister Elisabeth. Younger sister Barbara Aigner took silver, ahead of Slovakian Alexandra Rexova. All of the medallists were teenagers.

Veronika Aigner (left) follows her guide, sister Elisabeth, in the visually impaired slalom. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Britain’s Menna Fitzpatrick, who was attempting to defend her title from Pyeongchang, finished fourth, a frustrating 0.45 seconds off the podium, a gap which afterwards she told Channel 4 “you can lose within a gate, within milliseconds”. She praised the Aigner sisters and said that the standard of competition had vastly increased over the last four years.

Teammate Millie Knight came eighth, and afterwards revealed that she had been carrying a foot injury throughout the Games. In good spirits she joked that “Slalom is something that I really struggle with, I’m really bad at it, but it was so much fun.”

There was a sad note though when her guide Brett Wild announced that after six years and four Paralympic medals he was returning to Navy service and it would be the end of their partnership. “It’s been amazing,” he said. “I’ve lived the dream for six years.”

Millie Knight and her guide, Brett Wild, who is returning to the Navy after these Games. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Knight said: “It has just been the most incredible years together, and we’ve gone through the toughest times and the best times. It’s going to be a very difficult act to follow to find a new guide who’s up to Brett’s standards.”

In the women’s sitting slalom, Shona Brownlee of Britain finished ninth, despite suffering a fall on her opening run. Anna-Lena Forster of Germany successfully defended her title from Pyeongchang. Sweden’s Ebba Arsjö recovered sufficiently from what had looked like a nasty crash on the slopes yesterday to dominate the women’s standing slalom, and win the event from Zhang Mengqiu of China by over five seconds.

Away from the sport, International Paralympics Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons defended the decision to expel Russia and Belarus from the Games saying: “No one can be happy with the outcome to not allow anyone. Any reason is not good. We don’t like when politics mix with sports, but we have our limits.”

Saturday was the last full programme of these Winter Paralympics. Sunday will feature the gold medal match for para ice hockey between Canada and the US, three men’s para Alpine slalom races, and two relays in Nordic cross-country. Athletes will then gather at the Bird’s Nest stadium once more for the closing ceremony, which is at noon UK time.