12 February 2008
South African wheelchair racing superstar Ernst van Dyk’s lofty status in the international Paralympic community was recently underlined when he was chosen as one of 11 Paralympic ambassadors by the International Paralympic Committee.
The 11 ambassadors will serve as role models for young athletes, both disabled and able-bodied, and help to increase the profile of Paralympic sports.
Joining Van Dyk as ambassadors are:
- Verena Bentele (Germany, Nordic skiing)
- Hou Bin (China, athletics)
- Cheri Blauwet (USA, athletics)
- Kirsten Bruhn (Germany, swimming)
- Muffy Davis (USA, alpine skiing)
- Michael Teuber (Germany, cycling)
- Tanni Grey-Thompson (Great Britain, athletics)
- Esther Vergeer (Netherlands, wheelchair tennis)
- Chris Waddell (USA, alpine skiing)
- Henry Wanyoike (Kenya, athletics)
The 2006 winner of the Laureus Sportsperson of the Year Award for an athlete with a disability, Van Dyk is a legend of the Boston Marathon, having won it six times in succession from 2001 to 2006. His wins included a world record time of 1:18:27 in 2004, which marked the first time the one hour 20 minute barrier had been cracked.
Wheelchair marathon giant
A true giant of the wheelchair marathon, with other victories in New York, Paris, Seoul, Los Angeles, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Oensingen , Schenkon, and Oita, Van Dyk has also excelled in much shorter races, winning international meets over distances as short as 400 metres.
In 2001, competing at the Swiss Nationals, he set a world record in the 800 metres of 1:32.17.
Van Dyk was the first ever winner of the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour Hand Cycle race in 2005, and repeated his victory in 2006 and 2007.
Early sports career
Before he made his mark in wheelchair racing and handcycling, Van Dyk, who was born with congenital birth defects that required a double amputation of his legs from the knee down, also shone as a swimmer.
He won national colours at the age of 17 and in 1992 participated in the Barcelona Olympics, both as a swimmer and a wheelchair athlete. He finished fifth in the pool and made it into the semi-finals of his wheelchair events.