South African paralympian Ernst van Dyk hopes that the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon will put wheelchair racing on the map.
For the first time in South African and African history, an elite wheelchair racing division will be included in a marathon, which begins on Sunday.
The Cape Town Marathon aspires to become the seventh World Marathon Majors (WMM), joining the Boston, London, New York, Tokyo, Chicago, and Berlin marathons.
Van Dyk is one of South Africa’s most decorated paracyclists, having won eight Paralympic medals and five Para-World Championship medals. He has also represented South Africa in five Paralympic Games.
The 49-year-old is excited about the prospect of raising awareness about wheelchair racing and wants to see more para-cyclists in South Africa.
“I think it’s really important for me because I want to see my sport grow in South Africa,” Van Dyk told News24 Sport on Friday.
“I’d like to see some young people benefit from my experience and what I’ve done in the world scene.”
“Hopefully, having a major in South Africa will provide that platform to compete against the best in the world.”
“Learn from them, see what they do, be inspired and motivated by them, and pick up the training to possibly represent Africa at future Paralympics.”
The elite wheelchair division begins the 42.2km race at 06:00.
Van Dyk shrugs off the early start and realises that it will be safer if the Cape Town roads are deserted on Sunday morning.
“A lot of races, such as Chicago, start early. It’s part of managing the city, managing the activity. “There’s not much happening yet in the early morning,” Van Dyk explained.
“It creates a bubble in which we can have this race and have it go off without a hitch.”
“And then the city will be able to return to life and normalcy.” Unfortunately, with such an early race, it is difficult to attract large crowds, especially for the elites along the route.
“But I think it’s something that will evolve in the future as the race’s status grows and people see the revenue flowing into Cape Town and the benefit it does economically to people creating jobs and so on.”
Van Dyk has a record ten wheelchair titles in the Boston Marathon, two in the New York City Marathon, and two in the Los Angeles Marathon.
On Sunday, he will compete alongside American Paralympian Aaron Pike and Spanish Paralympian Rafa Botello.
Van Dyk, who has been out for most of the season after contracting Covid-19 in March, admits it will be difficult but hopes for a podium finish.
“I’m feeling OK; I’ve had a rough year in terms of health, but I think I’ve worked through most of it,” he said.
“And it’s just about getting the form together now in the last two weeks, I’ve felt better again.” I’m starting to feel like myself again, and I’m hoping to go through the top three tomorrow.
“I did recruit the serious field.” I didn’t have a big budget, but we did recruit a serious, competitive field, and just being in the top three will take some effort.”
The Cape Town Marathon will be broadcast live on SuperSport Channel 209 (SS Variety 4) between 05:55 and 11:00.