29 April 2013
South Africa’s Ernst van Dyk, who won a silver medal in the hotly contested London Paralympic hand cycling road race at Brands Hatch, is a two-sport star. His most recent foray abroad brought him more wheelchair racing success in the Boston and London marathons.
Van Dyk, a nine-time Boston Marathon winner, claimed silver this time around in the American city and picked up bronze in London a week later.
“These two marathons have always been back-to-back, so to win a double six days apart would be quite an achievement,” he said in an interview with Cycling South Africa.
Van Dyk endured a hectic six days in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, but thankfully returned home unscathed. “Initially we heard the first explosion,” he said. “Nobody was sure what it was. I thought it might be premature fireworks and everyone ran to the window of the hotel where we were celebrating the end of the race.
“As we stared out, the second explosion occurred right in front of our window. It was an incredible blast and people got badly hurt. I couldn’t imagine who would do such a thing.
“The Boston marathon has so much history. And they didn’t attack the runners. It was targeted at the families supporting the athletes.”
The South African star, who as a 17-year-old also competed in swimming at the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics, has been one of the leading wheelchair racers in the two marathons for the past 14 years, but he also switches to hand cycling from time to time too.
“For the London Paralympics I focused on cycling,” he said. “During the Beijing Paralympics, I won a gold medal in the cycling road race and a bronze medal in the wheelchair marathon. I was the only athlete to medal in two sporting codes.”
Discussing last year’s Paralympic Games, Van Dyk added: “For London, we did not get a lot of athletics spots, so I gave up my place, which I achieved by finishing in sixth at the 2011 World Champs, so that a youngster could make the team, seeing that I was already going for cycling.”
Van Dyk says the two sports of hand cycling and wheelchair racing are similar in terms of tactics. “The big difference is that in wheelchair racing we don’t have a crank, chain or gears. So physically, it’s very pure.
“I’m one of the very few athletes doing both disciplines. I think there are only two of us.”
Besides his achievements in competition, Van Dyk is also very proud of the fact that he was the first person with a disability to graduate with a degree in sports science from Stellenbosch University.
He is an ambassador for the International Paralympic Committee and the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.
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