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Xavier McKeever fights through doubt to finish 13th in junior men's 20-km mass start

McKeever continues to trust the process and has two top-16 placements at the Nordic World Juniors through five days
Alberta native Xavier McKeever finished 13th in the junior men's 20-km mass start on Jan. 30.

Xavier McKeever reminds himself that “the process always comes first, and the results come second.” For that reason, he is taking it all in stride despite falling short of the top 10 at the World Juniors so far.

As the nephew of Canadian Paralympic legend Brian McKeever, Xavier possesses heaps of talent and lofty expectations to match. A lot of skiers would be thrilled with a 13th-place finish at the World Juniors, but the 19-year-old expressed ambivalence about his Jan. 30 effort in the junior men’s 20-kilometre mass start. 

“A bit of a tough one today,” Xavier said after completing his race in a time of 55:25.2. “The pace was hot off the start and I did what I could to hang on. I struggled a bit. I felt like I was having a harder time keeping up with the double-poling sections and I wasn’t making up any ground on the downhills.”

The Canmore, Alta. resident was in the thick of it for the first 7.5 kilometres before dropping off the lead pace, with two groups of five separating themselves from the field midway through the second lap.

Xavier has previously been open about consulting with a sports psychologist, Richard Monette, about building mental toughness as a cross-country athlete. Such habits empowered him to find another gear and maintain his position at the front of the second chase group through to the finish line.

“I had red-lined for a bit in the second lap, and then the skis started coming to me in the last two laps and I started to come back alive,” Xavier said. “This obviously is not quite the result I wanted, but I’m happy I found a way to recover in the race and be able to fight for 13th.

“Competing at a World Championships at home is all a big learning experience for me. To go through that mental stage today, and recover from it, is a great takeaway.”

Back on Jan. 28, Xavier kicked off his Whistler experience with a 16th-place result in the 1.2-kilometre sprints. It was the first time in five attempts that he had made the cut for the head-to-head sprint heats at a World Juniors. Xavier was the lone Canadian male to earn a ticket to the quarterfinal round after posting the 23rd-fastest time in qualifying. 

The young Albertan showed courage and tactical awareness in his quarterfinal, charging into a hairpin turn out of the first downhill section. He briefly found himself at the front of the pack before others caught up with him during the last plunge back to the stadium. 

Crossing the line in third, Xavier failed to advance to the semifinal, as only the top two in each heat, along with the next two fastest “lucky losers,” move on. 

It’s no easy feat, switching from sprints to a 20-kilometre race within two days, but he welcomed the challenge. “My sprinting has been my strongest discipline, I think, pretty much all year,” Xavier said. “It was fun to make the heats and fun to jostle around, and kind of get a preview of the jostling that [happened] in the 20-kilometre.”