KRASNAYA POLAYNA, Russia - Two hundred metres into the race, Brian McKeever was suddenly on his backside and it appeared his ninth career Paralympic gold medal was slipping away.
But he wasn't letting it go without a fight and the Canmore, Alta., cross-country skier, led by guide Graham Nishikawa of Whitehorse, caught up to the pack to win the men's visually impaired sprint at the Sochi Paralympics on Wednesday.
It's McKeever's second gold of the 2014 Games and the 12th medal of his illustrious Paralympic career. The 34-year-old also won gold in the 20-kilometre event on Monday.
The two Canadians easily advanced to the final where a Russian skier stepped on McKeever's pole, causing him to crash around the 200-metre mark of the one-kilometre race.
But McKeever scrambled to his feet and, with the help of Nishikawa, caught up to the rest of the pack.
"It wouldn't be right for me to tell you what I said in my head, but once the cuss words were out, the only thing you can do is get back up and race," said McKeever. "I thought we were clear, but that is normal and it happens in sprinting when you are all fighting and tight. Everyone is going flat out. It is intense and everyone is at their limit. We are just fortunate it happened in the first 200 metres and not at the end so we had time to catch up."
Meanwhile, alpine sit-skier Kimberly Joines of Rossland, B.C., finished second in the women's slalom although the results are still unofficial after a German skier appealed her disqualification from the first run. A decision is expected Thursday morning.
Not including a medal for Joines, Canada has eight medals (two gold, two silver, four bronze) and sits third in the overall tally. Russia has a wide lead with 47 total medals while Ukraine is second with 14. Canada's goal is to finish in the top three in gold medals but is currently in fourth with McKeever's two. Ukraine is third with three while Germany is second with five and Russia leads with 16.
Nishikawa admitted he felt a rush of panic when he saw McKeever go down.
"It wasn't until we got back up around the Russians and had the Swedes in sight that I felt a huge relief," he said.
McKeever credited Nishikawa with getting him the gold.
"The snow was so heavy today," he said. "He basically towed me up that hill and ... and gave us a chance. It is not how we planned things, but that was a pretty awesome day."
Sweden's Zebastian Modin hung on for the silver medal, while Russia's Oleg Ponomarev won bronze.
Earlier this week, Nishikawa shared guiding duties with Erik Carleton to lead McKeever to his first gold of the 2014 Games. But Carleton's name was on the start list so he was the only one to receive a gold medal. Nishikawa's performance Wednesday has earned him a gold of his own.
"It feels absolutely awesome," said Nishikawa, who races on the able-bodied World Cup circuit. "I said earlier this is a whole new world for me. I'm so impressed by everything. This whole experience has been amazing and I just wanted to do whatever I could to be here and help Brian. We have been friends for a long time so this is very special."
A handful of other Canadians also competed in the sprint races. Chris Klebl of Canmore qualified for the men's sit-skiing heats but did not advance to the final. Robbi Weldon of Thunder Bay, Ont., along with her guide Phil Wood of Canmore had their day come to an end in the semifinals of the women's visually impaired category, while Paralympic rookie Brittany Hudak of Prince Albert, Sask., did not advance past the women's standing semifinals.
In curling, Canada improved to 6-1 and clinched a spot in the semifinals with a 10-4 victory over South Korea.