By Mark Etheridge
Veteran Paralympian Ernst van Dyk can be forgiven for probably humming a variety of songs by veteran rock band Ten Years After for the next while!
For it was 10 years after winning his first New York Marathon wheelchair title that the Paarl athlete posted his next victory in the Big Apple on Sunday.
Ten-time Boston Marathon champion, Van Dyk, after finishing fourth in the recent Chicago Marathon, outsprinted America’s Josh George by a mere second to cover the 42.2-kilometre course in 1hr 30min 54sec.
Ten years ago Van Dyk’s time was a then course record 1:31:11, meaning he bettered his old time by 17 seconds.
Times have indeed changed. Forty-two-year-old Van Dyk’s hi-tech new racing chair is light years ahead of what he was seated in back then… so too is the renumeration received. For his 2005 victory he won $3,500, Sunday saw him able to bank a sizeable $15,000 before sponsors’ incentives etc.
An ecstatic Van Dyk (he had double reason to celebrate this weekend as daughter Lexi celebrated her seventh birthday on Saturday) took Road to Rio 2016 through his race before turning his thoughts to a race in the Far East this weekend.
‘Conditions were pretty good and the wind wasn’t too hectic for a change. Kurt Fearnley took off like a bat out of hell and dropped us right at the start. I was left in fourth behind Marcel Hugg and Josh with Kurt way ahead.
‘I quickly gained on Josh and Marcel and then set my target on Kurt and reeled him in about 4km later. But the other two tagged along with me so then we were in a group of four.’
Van Dyk soon saw the benefits of his new custom-built chair. ‘We kept the pace high but I attacked every decline, using my new chair’s aerodynamic capabilities to make the others work hard. At around 15km I launched another attack and we hit some rough surface. I even airborne but landed well… Kurt not so well and he flipped over and bought some real estate!’
That saw the lead pack reduced to three. ‘I could see Marcel was struggling a bit on the hills and knew there was a massive climb coming up at 25km so conserved a bit of energy and focused on recovery.’
As the trio hit the hill it was George who put in a big surge. ‘I was behind Marcel and we both got dropped. Marcel gapped me too but I know that hill well and just paced myself. Eventually I caught Marcel and left him behind but Josh was still 15sec ahead of me.
‘After the bridge Josh was around 150m in front of me as we hit 1st Avenue.’
The feature of 1st Avenue is that it’s the longest straight in the race. ‘I pushed as hard as I could and eventually reeled in Josh. By this stage Marcel was so far back he was out of sight.’
The two racers then stuck to each other like limpets from then on in. ‘With 4km to go there’s one last long hill before we enter Central Park. Josh kept on throwing in short surges and I had to cover them all. When we hit the park it was my turn to surge. I tried my best to drop him but going into a headwind he was just drafting and hanging on.
‘For the last two years I’ve tried different tactics in the final 300m to take the sprint and each time finished second by one second.’
This time it was third time lucky for the six-time Paralympian against the 2015 IPC world champion.
‘My tactic worked! Josh took the lead with around 200m to go and the moment I saw weakness I put the hammer down and went around him to claim that second NY Marathon win in 10 years and also my best time ever in New York.’
The win certainly resounded around the globe. ‘Can you believe it… my name was trending on SA around Twitter along with the world rugby awards.’
There was another little fillip for Van Dyk’s weekend. ‘I didn’t realise it but by winning here, I also claimed the Chicago/New York Challenge by accumulating enough points to take the title and bonus cheque.’
But his season isn’t done yet! ‘I’ll get back to SA on Wednesday and then fly out to Japan on Thursday for my last race of the season… a marathon in Oita on Sunday.’
In the women’s wheelchair race, Tatyana McFadden won her third straight women’s wheelchair race in 1:43:04.
In the women’s race it was Comrades/Two Oceans double champion Caroline Wöstmann who ended 18th in a time of 2:44.26, a personal best for the Johannesburg athlete. The race was won by Kenya’s Mary Keitany in 2:24.25.
Picture courtesy of Getty Images.