CANMORE – One of the country’s rising ski stars is focusing on bigger goals after declining a guaranteed spot to go to the 2020 Youth Olympic Games (YOG).
Canmore's Xavier McKeever will compete at the world junior cross-country championship trials next month in Quebec for a chance to qualify for the prestige event in Oberwiesenthal, Germany in February.
The 16-year-old skier was the top selected Canadian cross-country skier for January’s YOG in Switzerland and said that although the Games “would have been a fantastic opportunity,” the world juniors offer stiffer competition with a greater upside.
“I thought it would be a cool experience to go, but the competition at world juniors is everyone [born] in the 2000s, whereas Youth Olympic Games is everyone born 2002 and younger, so the main competition is higher at [world juniors] and has more opportunity that can arise from it,” said McKeever, who trains with the Foothills Nordic Ski Club.
Canmore's Issy Hendry is also on the short list of Canadian skiers who could be potentially selected for the YOG, but she said she would also decline given the opportunity and will focus on school and world juniors trials.
The son of Olympians Robin McKeever and Milaine Theriault, and nephew of Paralympic great Brian McKeever, the teen was selected to represent Canada last season at world juniors at age 15. As the youngest competitor on course, his best individual result was 44th in the men’s 10-kilometre freestyle.
“It was super fun, [and] I had a lot to learn and got some great experience,” McKeever said.
“Everything is just skiing [in many European countries]. It’s a great atmosphere for skiing … so many people are focused on skiing – it’s like how Canada is focused on hockey.”
McKeever has been a top young skier in the country for many years and showed signs of his excellence when he won two gold medals at the Alberta Winter Games in 2014 when he was just 11.
Last weekend at the Haywood NorAm races at the Canmore Nordic Centre, McKeever was the top U20 racer in the 15-km and 1.3-km races, and finished third in the 10-km.
Almost one year has passed since the world junior races in Finland, which has given the Canmore Collegiate student invaluable time to add muscle and strength to his physique and gain more experience to prepare against the elite U20 field.
“At the start of the season, I went over what I did last year and a big goal is getting into the top 20. That is a big goal that would be like insane,” McKeever said. “A top 30 result is another goal in the back of mind.
“I usually take it one day at a time, whether it’s good or bad, I have to keep focusing on the next thing. What’s ahead is developing speed and developing as an athlete and becoming better each race, whether it's a bad or good race, there's always going to be something to learn.”