Van Dyk on Cloud Nine after a close call

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / April 20, 2010

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In his eight previous victories in the men’s wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon, Ernst Van Dyk never had cause to sweat out the last 800 meters.

The 37-year-old South African usually would render the outcome a foregone conclusion by the time he made the final left turn onto Boylston Street.

But the ninth time? This was different. This time, Van Dyk found himself having to push — and push hard — in an honest-to-goodness drag race down the final stretch.

Trailing Krige Schabort, an eight-time runner-up in Boston, as he made the turn onto Boylston Street, Van Dyk gave chase to his 46-year-old compatriot and furiously churned his push-rim wheelchair past Schabort’s with 400 meters to go. Van Dyk became the race’s winningest competitor — in any division, male or female — with his ninth victory yesterday in 1 hour, 26 minutes, 53 seconds.

Schabort finished in 1:26:56 to wind up as runner-up to Van Dyk for the sixth time. Kota Hokinoue of Japan wound up third in 1:27:05.

“If I were to download my heart monitor, I’m sure that it will show that this was the hardest win,’’ said Van Dyk, who won Boston for the third consecutive year and ninth time in 10 years to break a tie for victories here with legendary women’s wheelchair athlete Jean Driscoll. “To fight all day, instead of going at a pace that was comfortable for me, it was a battle.’’

It didn’t seem that way at the outset. Van Dyk surged to an early lead (“like I always do’’) and built a comfortable lead of about 600 meters through 7 miles.

“But at the halfway mark, they caught up to me,’’ Van Dyk said. “It was like a train. It was five of them and they worked together and they reeled me in. Then I thought it was pretty much over.’’

Van Dyk stayed close to the pack, but when they approached the hills, “the attacks started coming,’’ he said.

“We hit the hills and the first attack came, the second attack came, and then the third attack came. I’m a heavier guy — I weigh double — but they got away from me on the hills and, fortunately enough, I was fourth after Heartbreak Hill.

“I just worked hard and I dug deep and kept focusing on the guy in front of me and so I caught up to Kota and then I could see Krige in front of me and I thought, ‘Well, I still may have a chance,’ and just sprinted hard as I could for about 2 miles and then we knew it was going to be a sprint.’’

All the way to finish.

“During the last stretch, I started to feel fatigued,’’ Schabort said. “I was not going to be able to stay with Ernst. I was not going to be able to sprint at the end.

“At the final turn on Boylston Street, my heart was in my throat. I was fatigued at the end and that brought my heart rate up.’’

Van Dyk’s hard-fought victory earned him a special place in the pantheon of Boston champions.

“I count each win as a bonus, whether it’s the ninth, eighth, or 17th,’’ he said. “Now that I have won nine and I am the only one in history, it’s an honor. Someone will not be able to do this for another 10 years.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at