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Masazumi Soejima
Masazumi Soejima has the hardware, having won in his first try at the Boston Marathon. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)

Japanese sweep titles as Van Dyk is stymied

He hit a pothole that caused one tire to go flat and the other to come off the rim. That was just one of the travails of racing the Boston Marathon in a wheelchair on a blustery, rainy day.

That trouble befell Ernst Van Dyk. But the South African, winner of the past six Boston Marathons, didn't use it as an excuse for falling off his throne.

He simply lost, he said.

Masazumi Soejima of Japan won the men's wheelchair race in a convincing 1 hour 29 minutes 16 seconds. Krige Schabort was second in 1:36.27 and Van Dyk third in 1:37.10.

Van Dyk, who holds the course record of 1:18.27 but fell one short of the record for consecutive wheelchair wins at Boston, was matter-of-fact about the outcome.

"It had to happen at some time," he said. "I was beaten by a better athlete today."

Soejima's win helped account for a Japanese sweep in the wheelchair division, as Wakako Tsuchida of Japan won the women's race in 1:53.30. Not only was the Japanese sweep unprecedented, but it marked the first time a racer from Japan had won either wheelchair race.

Could this, combined with the adoration for Red Sox star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, lead to more Japanese fan fever in Boston?

"I don't know him, but I definitely know of him," Soejima said of Matsuzaka. "But I would like to meet him, and hoped to meet him while in Boston."

Tsuchida said she felt warmth from the spectators along the course.

"I felt all the love for Japanese people because of Daisuke and all the hype," she said.

Soejima, 36, had never before raced at Boston, but was not daunted by the weather forecast.

"It was more challenging to win on a day like this," he said through an interpreter. "But I ran [and won] Tokyo a couple of months ago, and it was windy and cold. But I was more nervous this time around."

Soejima, a two-time winner of the Honolulu Marathon, took off from the other racers at the 4-mile mark, and led for the rest of the way, even though his brakes weren't working very well.

Van Dyk said his brakes were working, but he hit a pothole at about the 20-mile mark that punctured one tire while the other snapped off, forcing him to stop and pop it back on.

He said he swerved to avoid the pothole , but couldn't.

"But the race was determined by then anyway," he said.

"Last year in London it was similar conditions and we had a crash, so I was very nervous about it today. I probably held back too much."

Van Dyk said he's not done with Boston.

"I'm only 34, and I think I will be back here a couple more times," he said.

On the women's side, Tsuchida was competing in her first race since giving birth seven months ago. She wasn't expected to threaten competitors such as Diane Roy and Shirley Reilly, who finished second and third last year (defending champion Edith Hunkeler is injured and did not race yesterday).

But neither was able to keep up with Tsuchida, who led the entire race. Amanda McGrory, of Champaign, Ill., finished second (1:58:01) and Sandra Graf, of Switzerland, third (2:02:30).

"I dictated for a while, at the half, but could never seem to catch up," said McGrory. "I think it just so happened that Sandra and I ended up slipping less than the others did, so we got lucky."