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Van Dyk not party to surprise this time

By Marvin Pave, Globe Staff, 4/14/2002

His first Boston Marathon was so-so, an eighth-place finish in the wheelchair division in 1999 with a time of 1 hour 29 minutes 51 seconds.

His second attempt in Boston, however, was one for the books for 29-year-old South African Ernst Van Dyk, who ended the four-year reign of Switzerland's Franz Nietlispach last year in 1:25:12, a 6:12 margin of victory. No longer the hunter, Van Dyk - winner of the Los Angeles Marathon March 3 - is now the hunted.

Van Dyk, who switched from competitive swimming to wheelchair racing at age 18, had a great 2001 campaign, setting world records in the 400 meters, 800 meters, 10K, and 25K, and winning five events at the 2001 Swiss Nationals.

Buoyed by last year's success, Van Dyk is hoping to eclipse the Boston record of 1:21:23, set by Heinz Frei of Switzerland in 1994.

Van Dyk said his initial impression of Boston was that ''it would be an easy downhill race. But there wasn't that much downhill and I realized my weaknesses and I've worked at them. My climbing wasn't as good as it should have been. Boston is a challenging course. It has a little bit of everything and I love it.''

Last year, said Van Dyk, all the pressure was on 2000 Paralympic gold medalist Nietlispach to extend his Boston record of four consecutive wins, with two-time winner Frei his top challenger.

''I could just sit back and do my own thing,'' Van Dyk said. ''I surprised myself getting away so cleanly. I didn't think I would get away so easily and quickly. But this year, I won't have surprise on my side.''

Field of hope

There will be a new champion in the women's wheelchair division because 2001 winner Louise Sauvage of Australia has retired from competing in Boston. Since 1990, the only women's champs in Boston have been Sauvage and American Jean Driscoll, who also has retired.

Among this year's favorites, first-time Boston entrant Wakako Tsuchida of Japan has the best recent time - a 1:38.32 at the 2001 Oita Marathon. The first professional wheelchair athlete in Japanese history, Tsuchida, 27, is also an Olympic-caliber ice sledge speedskater. Tsuchida and her coach of six years, Toshi Mitsui, got in a training ride last Saturday on the Boston course.

Watertown resident and Boston Marathon disability coordinator Bob Hall, who was the first wheelchair athlete to complete the course (in 1975) and won the first official wheelchair division race two years later, said the women's race should be ''wide open.''

'' Edith Hunkeler from Switzerland is returning and she was third three years ago and second last year, and she would be the favorite this year except for Tsuchida,'' said Hall. ''It remains to be seen what her ability is on the hills.''

Honorable mentions

Van Dyk, along with men's champion Lee Bong Ju of Korea and women's champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya, were presented with their official bibs at yesterday's BAA Champions Breakfast at the Fairmont Copley Plaza.

Honored with a 20th anniversary video tribute were 1982 men's winner Alberto Salazar and runner-up Dick Beardsley, 1992 women's champ Olga Markova, and 1982 and 1992 men's wheelchair winner Jim Knaub, all of whom were present.

Pippig talking return

It has been six years since Uta Pippig won her third Boston Marathon. But she hinted she might run in 2003.

''I hope to run next year,'' Pippig said during an interview at The Sports Club/LA, where she offered tips to marathon runners. ''[But] I want to recharge before I come back.''

Stephanie Stoughton of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page D14 of the Boston Globe on 4/14/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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