|The 2002 Boston Marathon - The Wheelchair Races
by Leslie Barnett
Ernst Van Dyk, 29 from South Africa, defended his 2001 Men's Wheelchair title today, finishing the race in 1:23:19. Van Dyk, who opened up the lead early, had hoped to break the course record (1:21:23) set by Heinz Frei of Switzerland in 1994. While not a course record, his winning time now stands as the sixth fastest all-time peformance for the wheelchair race.
Van Dyk's fellow compatriot Krige Schabort came in second in 1:26:04, and race veteran Franz Nietlispach of Switzerland (Boston champion 1995, 1997-2000) finished third in 1:30:08. Saul Mendoza of Mexico who finished in third in 2000, held on for fourth place in 1:32:55.
After the race, Van Dyk said he had felt some pressure to win for his second consecutive year because it could mean endorsements for him. Until now, he has trained with no financial backing, and the only endorsement he's had is from the company that makes his chair, a chair that he says helped him maintain his high speed.
Schabort was ecstatic about his second place finish, and as for Nietlispach, he was pretty happy with third place. He said he knew he couldn't catch Schabort in the last 5k, but he also knew that Mendoza couldn't catch him.
With the absence of Jean Driscoll and Louise Sauvage, the dominating women's wheelchair champions since 1996, the women's wheelchair race was wide open for last year's second-place finisher, Edith Hunkeler of Switzerland to grab the title. Despite the lack of competition challenging her to go fast, Hunkeler won in 1:45:57, eight minutes ahead of her finish last year. Hunkeler was quite emotional at the finish, saying that she was very proud to have won and to be following Driscoll and Sauvage as the Boston champion. She attributed her performance to the weather and to the secrets given to her by Louise Sauvage while the two were training together this past year.
Christina Ripp from Illinois, who trained with Jean Driscoll when Ripp was a freshman at the University of Illinois, came in second in 1:49:32. Ripp, who has been training for three years hopes that she'll be able to follow in the footsteps of Driscoll. Wakako Tsuchida of Japan finished third in 1:50:09. According to a representative from her camp, Tsuchida, who was able to keep up with Hunkeler through mile 15, had difficulty maintaining her speed over the whole course because she is so light.