Cross-country skier Brian McKeever claimed Canada's first gold medal at the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games.

McKeever, 34, finished the men's visually impaired 20-kilometre cross-country race in 52 minutes, 37.1 seconds. The win in Sochi brought McKeever his eighth Paralympic gold medal.

The medallist was guided through the course by Canadian cross-country skiers Erik Carleton and Graham Nishikawa.

The win came as a surprise for the Canmore, Alta. native, who told CTV News Channel he caught a virus last week, so he wasn’t sure what to expect of his performance. The virus forced him to drop out of the men's 7.5-kilometre biathlon on Saturday.

"It was a tough day today," McKeever told CTV News Channel on Monday. "In an endurance sport, you knock yourself down a few per cent and that can mean the difference between winning and losing."

With four years between games, "everything's geared towards that, all your training and the races in the middle are great but it's all for the big event. If you miss your chance after four years, it’s a long wait for the next one."

Russia’s Stanislav Chokhlaev, 24, finished second and Sweden’s Zebastian Modin, 19, finished third. Chokhlaev was more than one minute behind McKeever, and Modin was four minutes behind.

"It’s nice to see that we're still hanging in there at the top and showing the young guys that old men can pace these races out as well."

McKeever has macular degeneration, a medical condition that causes a loss of central vision. His father and aunt both have the same impairment.

"Judging from their experience, they remember being in grade 1 and they couldn't read the boards, and for me it developed really late, so we thought it skipped both my brother and I," McKeever said. But he noticed his vision fading in his late teens, and was diagnosed at 18.

The skier has a one-kilometre sprint race on Wednesday, a relay race on Saturday and a 10-kilometre race on Sunday.