He survived Sochi's difficult super-G course, but Caleb Brousseau didn't expect he'd survive the challengers to come.
The ninth sit skier to start on Sunday, March 9, Brousseau arrived at the finish in third place with the majority of the men's field left to go.
But as skier after skier crashed out, skied off course or came up short in their bids for the podium, the Whistler-based athlete started to realize he was going to be a Paralympic medallist.
"I knew there were at least five other people who could beat my (time). My race was good, but I was expecting there to be a couple more people who might take it on me," Brousseau told Pique on Wednesday, March 12 from Sochi.
"But then one guy would fall and I'd think, 'No way, I'm still here, OK.' Another guy would reach the finish and I'd think, 'How did he not get it?'
"It was a nail-biter, for sure. I was surprised that I had fingers left after the race was done. I had to look down to make sure they were still there."
In the end, nobody was able to come within three seconds of the 25-year-old's time, and Brousseau had a bronze medal put around his neck later that evening during his first trip to the Paralympic Games.
"It's pretty crazy to have that title (of Paralympic medallist)," said the Terrace native. "It hasn't fully sunk in yet. It's still blowing my mind a little bit."
Brousseau completed his run in one minute, 22.05 seconds on Sunday, slotting in behind Japanese skiers Akira Kano and Taiki Morii. Brousseau finished 2.54 seconds back of Kano's winning time.
B.C. native Josh Dueck was among those skiers who fell on their way to the finish Sunday to keep Brousseau's spot on the podium intact. Dueck was on a gold-medal pace in the super-G but wiped out just two gates from the end of the course.
"That was definitely a bit bittersweet," Brousseau said of watching his teammate have a victory slip away while keeping a podium spot to himself. "It was nice that Canada got to be on the podium no matter what. It would have been really nice for Josh to have gotten a gold, but at the same time it was nice to get myself on the podium."
Heading into Sochi, Brousseau felt his best chance for a medal would be in downhill, as he claimed his first World Cup medal in that discipline just weeks ago. But when he placed sixth in the Paralympic downhill on Saturday, March 8, he suddenly wasn't sure what his prospects of a medal would be.
"When that didn't happen (in downhill), I was like, 'Ooh... I don't know,'" said Brousseau. "I knew I could do well in super-G, but I just wasn't sure if it would happen there or not."
Returning to action on Tuesday, March 11 for super combined competition, Brousseau was leading on split times during the first-run slalom, but made an error on the tricky course and did not finish.
"It definitely didn't feel fast when I was going down, but when I watched it afterwards, it looked pretty fast," he said.
Whistler standing skier Matt Hallat has had a frustrating start to his Games, as the three-time Paralympian has been unable to finish either of his two races so far. Like Dueck, he crashed just metres from the line in super-G and went off course in the combined slalom run. Both Hallat and Brousseau will compete in the slalom on Thursday, March 13 and the giant slalom on Saturday, March 15.
The Canadian para-alpine team has collected four medals so far, highlighted by Dueck's downhill silver medal, the second of his career. The podium finish came 10 years to the day that Dueck was paralyzed after breaking his back in a ski accident.
Visually-impaired skier Mac Marcoux of Ontario claimed bronze medals in both men's speed races behind guide Robin Fémy.
MCKEEVER GOLDEN AGAIN
Brian McKeever captured his eighth and ninth Paralympic gold medals this week, and earned both in unconventional fashion.
The visually impaired cross-country skier swapped guides midway through his 20-kilometre classic race on Monday, March 10, and the decision to sub in Graham Nishikawa for Erik Carleton paid off, as McKeever won by more than a minute.
In the one-km men's sprint on Wednesday, the 34-year-old got tangled up with a Russian skier early in the final, but got back up and powered his way up to the front. He passed Sweden's Zebastien Modin on the final stretch to the finish line to take the win.
Biathlete Mark Arendz has picked up two medals of his own in Sochi thus far, as well in men's standing competition. The Prince Edward Island native was just 0.7 seconds out of first place when taking silver in his 7.5-km race on Saturday, then claimed bronze in the 12.5-km race on Tuesday, March 11, missing just once in four trips to the range.
The Paralympics continue until the closing ceremonies on Sunday, March 16.
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