22 April 2008
South African wheelchair athlete Ernst van Dyk’s love affair with the Boston Marathon continued on Monday when he won the race for a record seventh time.
In 2007, his bid for a seventh Boston Marathon title in succession came up short when Japan’s Masazami Soejima took the title. This time around Van Dyk dominated the event, leading from start to finish, to claim victory.
His time was one hour, 26 minutes and 49 seconds, the second slowest winning time among his seven wins, but it was a convincing and unchallenged victory.
A week before the race, Van Dyk had suffered a setback at the London Marathon when, with the finish line only 20 metres away, he had been involved in a collision that dropped him from third to sixth in the final standings.
Electing to go out fast, five kilometres into Monday’s race Van Dyk led by 40 seconds over Soejima. A further 10 kilometres into the 42.2-kilometre race, he enjoyed a healthy advantage over fellow South African Krige Schabort, who had moved up to second place.
From the halfway mark, Van Dyk admitted he held back a little because of the aftereffects of his crash in the London Marathon, which were causing him muscle pain. There was also the not insignificant effect of a 16 km/h headwind, but he had taken control of the race.
The South African star was competing in a new wheelchair for the first time. He had been due to receive it later this month, but says the manufacturers rushed it to him after they saw his crash in the London Marathon. Luckily, says Van Dyk, he adapted quickly to it and was able to log 100 kilometres in the new chair before the Boston Marathon.
Big margin of victory
Van Dyk’s winning time left him a whopping three minutes and 50 seconds clear of second placed Schabort, who finished in 1:30:39, and had to settle for the runner-up position for the seventh time. Soejima, the defending champion, finished third in 1:33:00.
There is little time for Van Dyk to celebrate his Boston success; he will be competing in the Seoul Marathon on Sunday where he will complete his early season marathon programme.
In 2006, Van Dyk won the Laureus Sportsperson of the Year Award for an athlete with a disability after a spectacular year in 2005.
During that year he won the Boston Marathon for the fifth year in succession, and claimed further marathon victories in New York, Paris, Seoul and Oita Marathons. In addition, he showed a fine turn of speed to win short distance titles over 400 and 800 metres in Atlanta’s Meet in the Heat.
In handcycling, he won the South African Championships, the Argus Cycle Tour, the EHC Circuit Race at Spijkernisse and the Saddlers Ultra Challenge in Alaska. He also finished runner-up at the European Championship road race and time trial.
Van Dyk holds the world record for the marathon, which he established in the 2004 Boston Marathon in a time of one hour, 18 minutes and 27 seconds. It marked the first time the magical one hour, 20 minute barrier had been broken.
His status in Boston is that of a superstar; he has on three occasions been asked to throw out the first pitch at Major League Baseball clashes between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.
The rivalry between the two American League rivals is the greatest in Major League Baseball, which puts into perspective the honour that has been accorded Van Dyk and the esteem in which he is held in the city.
With seven wins in the Boston Marathon, he has earned and deserves that status.
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