Paralympian Van Dyk excels in two major sporting codes

Paralympic hand cyclist Ernst Van Dyk, who won a silver medal in the hotly contested London Paralympic road race at Brands Hatch, has the unique ability to claim podium achievements in two top sporting codes.

Van Dyk’s recent trip to Boston (USA) and London (UK) saw him compete in the athletics discipline of wheelchair racing. He is no stranger to these two destinations for the extremely popular world marathon events. Van Dyk has won 9 Boston Marathons, and has been racing both events since 1999. In the past week, he claimed a silver medal in Boston, and less than a week later, bronze in London.

“These two marathons have always been back-to-back so to win a double 6 days apart will be quite an achievement,” he says.

After 14 years at the helm of wheelchair racing in these two marathons alone, Van Dyk affirms that he competes in both the athletic and cycling discipline at a very high level. “For the London Paralympics I focused on cycling. 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.

“For London we did not get a lot of athletics spots so I gave up my place (which I achieved by finishing in 6th position at the 2011 world champs) so that a youngster could make the team seeing that I was already going for cycling,” continues Ernst.

According to Van Dyk, the two sports of hand cycling and wheelchair racing are much the same 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.”

Amidst all the racing that Van Dyk endured in a very hectic six days, he was fortunate to return home unscathed after the terrible bomb attacks at the end of the Boston Marathon.

“Initially we heard the first explosion. 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.”