Most probably, and with good reason, many South Africans know Ernst van Dyk only by the nick-name, ‘Mr Boston Marathon’. He has, after all, won the Boston Wheelchair Marathon a record nine times. He achieved his last victory earlier this year.
An interesting bit of information as far as Van Dyk’s Boston Marathon exploits are concerned, is that he was the first wheelchair athlete ever to break the 1 hour 20 minute barrier in the marathon.
What most people don’t realize, is that Van Dyk’s sports talents are not just restricted to ‘out-running’ the world’s best. He is also a world-class handcyclist who won a gold medal in the road race as well as a bronze medal in the individual time trial during the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.
At last year’s UCI World Championship in Italy, he won a silver medal in the road race and a bronze in the time trial.
At the 2007 UCI World Championships that was held in Bordeaux, he won two gold medals. But there is more to come. Van Dyk also won the handcycle race of the Argus Cycle Tour in 2008 as well as in 2009.
Handcycling requires superior upper body strength and stamina. It is performed on a bicycle that is powered by the arms, rather than the legs. Van Dyk is a member of the South African Para-cycling team (road race, time trial and handcycle relays) that will compete in a UCI World Cup in Segovia, Spain, on Saturday and Sunday (12-13 June). Van Dyk’s main goal is to improve his time-trialing ability.
“I set myself the challenge to close the gap between my time and those of the two top time trialists. As far as the forthcoming road race is concerned, I don’t want to make any predictions because, as every cyclist knows, a road race is very unpredictable. Something that could totally change the outcome of the race could happen at any moment.
“The three-man relay should be very exciting.
"It is a new event in the World Cup series. A team consists of a handcyclist like myself, a paraplegic rider and a quadriplegic rider and we do laps on the time-trial course.”
Those who know reckon that South Africa stands a chance to win the bronze medal in the relay.
The other two handcyclists in the South African team are Stuart McReadie and Pieter du Preez. It will be the first time that they will compete internationally.
As is the tradition, the team includes a strong contingent of tricyclists, with Madre Carinus (who is ranked 2nd in the world) well-positioned to win at least a silver medal.
Jaco Nel should normally have an excellent chance to win a medal, but he might still be below peak condition as a result of a recent vehicle accident.
All the team members hope to finish within the top eight positions in their respective events in order to advance incrementally towards medal earning potential by the time of the London 2012 Olympics.
This applies in particular to the youngest team member, Goldy Fuchs, who excelled during the past 12 months.
With the necessary experience she is said to have the potential to excel at the highest level.
Van Dyk’s involvement in cycling is not confined to being a rider. He also serves on the new Cycling SA Board as the riders’ representative. It is something about which he is quite passionate.
“I think the fact that Cycling SA has decided to have a rider representative on their board is very positive. Not every national sporting body has made such a provision to make their athletes’ voices heard.
“As yet I do not have a final strategy in place for my role as riders’ representative. It is important that I should talk to as many cyclists as possible to find out how they feel about the national set-up and what bothers them. I should also listen to the riders’ proposals on what could be done to make cycling a sport for everybody.
“I will also strive towards making riders proud again to represent South Africa. To succeed in doing this, one will have to look at, for example, the equipment at the riders’ disposal.”
The South African Para-cycling team includes the following
Ernst van Dyk (OPEX)
Pieter du Preez
Madre Carinus (OPEX)
Gerhard Viljoen (OPEX)
Janos Plekker (OPEX)
Jaco Nel (OPEX)
James van Rensburg
Roxy Burns (OPEX)
Manager: Ludwig Gerstner
Coach: Elrick Kulsen
Mechanic: Melvin Claasen
Biokineticist: Melissa Hillhouse
CP assistant: Alma Snyman