By Duncan Mackay
January 22 - Visually impaired cross-country skier Brian McKeever (pictured) will become the first athlete to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics after being today selected by Canada for the Games in Vancouver.
McKeever, who has won seven Paralympic medals, including four gold, with his brother Robin, who represented Canada in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, as his guide.
But at the Olympics, which open on February 12, McKeever will rely on the remaining 10 per cent of his vision - all of it periphery - to compete on his own.
McKeever is planning to treat both events just as seriously as each other.
He said: "For me the ideal season is to go to the Olympics and then do what I want to do at the Paralympics.
"It would be a disaster for me to qualify for the Olympics and then race poorly in the Paralympics.
"It was never an either or thing for me.
"It's important for people to know the Paralympics is as high as it gets.
"It is the Olympic Games for people with physical disabilities, and I hope people will realise 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 not] 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 has Stargardt's disease, an inherited condition of macular degeneration that also claimed his father's eyesight.
He has been suffering it since he was 19 but has never given up on his Olympic dream.
McKeever said: "People hear some blind guy is trying to make it to the Olympics, and they think that's crazy."
That possibility came closer to reality when McKeever won a 50 kilometres Nor-Am trials race at the Canmore Nordic Centre last month.
He will become the sixth athlete in Olympic history to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics, joining 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 Susan Fairhall (paraplegic).
Tom Holland, the performance director of Cross Country Canada, said: "This is truly one of the most talented Olympic teams Canada has ever assembled, which is not only a testament to the continued strength and growth of the national programme but also demonstrates what an incredible athlete Brian is and the enormity of his accomplishment."
Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]
December 2009: Paralympic champion step closer to qualifying for Olympics
December 2009: Canadian cross-country skier aiming for winter sports history