Evolution of ...

Evolution of marathon wheelchair races

Eight-time winner Van Dyk has seen great improvement

April 16, 2010

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Ernst Van Dyk will race for his record ninth Boston Marathon wheelchair win. Van Dyk claimed the marathon world record in 2004, when he finished Boston in 1:18 27. Much has changed since Van Dyk began racing in the 1980s.

Q: How have racing chairs changed since the advent of the “modified everyday’’ model? A: “After that, I had a fiberglass bucket seat with some aluminum tubing and three everyday wheels — was scary times! In the early ’90s, I got my first real racing chair, which was super light and fast for the time. From there the frames developed from a V-frame to the first T-frame . . . The rules around the chair design has limited any significant improvement over the last 10 years — basically the chair I won with in 2001 would be very similar to what I will race in Boston this year.’’

Q: How has other equipment changed?

A: “We have developed the gloves quite a bit in the last couple of years to the point where we are now almost using prosthetic devices. The modern-day glove is molded from plastic or carbon fiber to each individual’s hands and stroke technique covered with a thin layer of rubber for grip. We are also lucky that we could ‘piggyback’ on the helmet development though cycling.’’

Q: Any changes in training methods?

A: “A more professional approach to training and the development of proper sport science has prompted big changes. The wheelchair marathon has become a long sprint for us and the approach to race a marathon in under 80 minutes is completely different from the approach to race a 100-minute marathon. We now employ all the same techniques, equipment, and specialists as say an NFL or MLB team.’’


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