“The longer the race the smarter you need to be and that only comes after years of trial and error.”
The Abbott World Marathon Majors series kicks off again in Tokyo, Japan, on Sunday (26 February) with one of the oldest world records in the Para athletics book under threat.
Organisers have said that the course could suit an attempt on the mark which was set in the last century – Switzerland’s Heinz Frei clocking 1:20:14 in Oita, Japan, way back in 1999.
The Tokyo course has been altered this year, with organisers taking out some of the hills which made the finish to the race in 2016 such a tough test.
So with fast times in prospect, could we see the record books re-written at last in Japan?
South African Ernst Van Dyk, second in this event last year, thinks it could be time for a crack at beating Frei’s mark.
“Our current world record is very old and any opportunity to attempt a crack at it is a great one. The race does come a bit early in the year and the weather can be very unpredictable. A fast race is always a good race,” he said.
However, while he welcomes the opportunity for a potential record, \van Dyk realises that the course changes may not play to his strengths.
“I really liked the added challenge of the climbs in the end as it was a tactical point, now it will surely come down to a mass sprint which is always a bit tricky,” admitted the Western Cape man, who has enjoyed a highly successful career spanning six Paralympic Games and three different sports – Para swimming, Para athletics and Para cycling.
“Last year was last year, with a different course and different dynamics as the field have changed quite a bit for this year. So (I take) no confidence from that second place around a year ago.”
Van Dyk won gold in the men’s handcycling road race at Rio 2016 but decided to end his cycling career after the Paralympic Games and focus solely on the marathon.
The experienced South African has won the Boston Marathon 10 times, so is one of the world’s leading exponents of the discipline.
He has seen marathon racing transform over recent years – most recently, the introduction of the Abbott World Marathon Majors series for wheelchair racers in 2016 that he believes “has truly made the sport professional.”
“I've seen the sport survive some serious challenges like the onslaught from handcycling trying to get into marathons and dropping entry numbers, to a total revival and growth phase to where we are today where it has become a fully-fledged professional sport where an athlete can actually make a living out of it,” Van Dyk acknowledged.
Also in the line-up on Sunday is Swiss star Marcel Hug, as well as the likes of USA’s Joshua George, third in New York and Chicago last year, and local talent Hiroki Nishida, third in Berlin, Germany, last September.
Hug, 31, dominated marathon racing throughout 2016, securing a clean sweep of titles in the current Abbott World Marathon Majors series – six in all, including Paralympic gold at Rio 2016. The current series finishes in Boston, USA, in April.
“Marcel was very dominant in 2016 - he was able to do what no male racer was able to do for the past three or four years,” acknowledged Van Dyk, who missed seven weeks of training when he suffered a serious injury after last year’s New York marathon in November.
“The fact that it was a Paralympic year probably contributed a lot to it. Plus he was fortunate with no mechanical failures in the events that mattered. Basically he was in great shape with no bad luck and that is a combination we all hope for.”
At 43, the South African possesses one advantage – he’s been there, seen it and done it.
He explained: “Experience is key to any event where tactics plays a role. The longer the race the smarter you need to be and that only comes after years of trial and error.”
Hug may start as the favourite in Japan, but with years of marathon racing under his belt Van Dyk knows exactly what it will take to be a serious contender.