South African Paralympic legend, Ernst van Dyk, celebrated the ultimate victory when he claimed his second Paralympic gold medal of his illustrious career during the Men’s H5 hand cycling race at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games in Brazil last week.
In doing so, he beat his arch rival, Italian Alessandro Zanardi into second place on the finish line in a time of one hour 37 minutes and 49 seconds along the 60-kilometre route, while Jetze Plat of the Netherlands finished third.
“To take a medal at an event that only comes around every four years remains a phenomenal achievement,” said Van Dyk. “There is no “let’s try again next season”. For many, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is only my second gold medal in over 24 years of competing, so it ranks right up there with my first gold in Beijing eight years ago.”
Van Dyk (43) has made reference to the impact that his fiercest competitor, Zanardi, has brought to the hand cycling races in recent years. “His resources are without limit and he is also a phenomenal athlete. So I would have to say that this has been the best moment of my career.”
Strategy and tactics played a vital role towards the latter stage of the race. Van Dyk anticipated the 200-degree bend before the finish as a critical point in the race. “To have a shot at a gold medal I knew I had to be out of the corner in first, or at least next to the next guy. My plan was simply to achieve that. With around one-and-a-half kilometres to go, I saw a gap and attacked hard, got to the front and remained there. I kicked hard before the corner so I knew they had to try to take it hard on the inside, which was very difficult in a group. So basically the strategy that I planned worked out perfectly.”
In addition to peak fitness and race strategy, Van Dyk had also worked hard on the development and design of his carbon fibre hand cycle, which he says kept him competitive as his competitors all raced on fully custom carbon cycles.
Van Dyk confirmed that this race was to be his final Para-cycling event. “This was the conclusion of my cycling career. I want to focus on marathons again for the next four to five years or so.”
It was his eighth career Paralympic medal, with three silver and three bronze medals already accumulated throughout his career.