Ernst van Dyk: King of Boston

19 April 2005

South African wheelchair athlete Ernst van Dyk has won the famous Boston Marathon for a record fifth consecutive time, coming home almost six minutes clear of his nearest challenger.

It was the realisation of a dream for Van Dyk who, after winning the race for the fourth time in a row in 2004, said he wanted the record of consecutive victories all to himself.

Disability Sport South Africa Until this year, he had shared the record with Switzerland’s Franz Nietlispach, who who took victory from 1997 to 2000. Nietlispach also has five Boston wins under his belt – but not five in a row.

Van Dyk’s winning time of one hour, 24 minutes and 11 seconds was some way off the world record 1:18:27 he posted in 2004.

Another South African, Krige Schabort, claimed second in 1:30:03, just over half a minute ahead of Nietlispach.

Just a week prior to the Boston Marathon, Van Dyk won the Paris Marathon, in a contest he described as a warm-up for his primary goal, the Boston Marathon, which he has described as “the granddaddy of all marathon races”.

Trains like a Trojan
Van Dyk trains seven days a week, four hours a day, covering as many as 400 kilometres in that time. But it can be rewarding financially; his world record effort in 2004 won him US$27 000.

It seems like he has been around forever – he competed in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 – but Van Dyk is 32 years of age, which is ideal for distance athletes.

Van Dyk used to be a top swimmer before concentrating his energies on wheelchair racing. At Barcelona he competed in both swimming and wheelchair racing. He picked up a fifth place in the pool, and made the semi-finals in his wheelchair events, but it was the track that captured his heart.

He reckons the effect of the cheering crowd as he circled the track led to his decision to quit the pool and take on wheelchair racing alone.

Paralympic success
At the 2004 Athens Paralympics, Van Dyk picked up two silver medals and a bronze. He settled for a controversial second to Mexico’s Saul Mendoza in the 1 500 metres – by just 0.41 seconds – after the Mexican cut in front of him with 200 metres to go, forcing Van Dyk’s left wheel off the ground.

He finished second in the 800 metres, too, and took third in the 5 000 metres. The demands of his strenuous programme took its toll in the marathon, where he finished eighteenth, 16 minutes behind the winner, Kurt Fearnley.

In Boston, however, Van Dyk has reconfirmed his status as possibly the best wheelchair marathon athlete in the world.

He will be in action on the track next, competing in the 1 500 metres pursuit at the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, England from 12 to 15 May.

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