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MEN'S WHEELCHAIR

Van Dyk right on the mark

South African Ernst Van Dyk, 31, had a goal when he started the men's wheelchair race yesterday. He attained it with ease. He also reached another goal, one he could only have dreamed of: setting a course record.

Van Dyk won his division for the fourth consecutive year to equal Franz Nietlispach's Boston winning streak from 1997 to 2000. Van Dyk posted a time of 1 hour 18 minutes 27 seconds to top Heinz Frei's mark (1:21:23) set in 1994. Second-place finisher Joel Jeannot, 38, of France, finished in 1:21:08, and Nietlispach was third in 1:23:07.

Van Dyk took command from the get-go and the outcome was never in doubt as he looked stronger at every checkpoint.

His work ethic of training seven days a week for almost four hours a day paid dividends. Van Dyk was on record pace from 3 miles to the finish, outstanding racing in the heat (83 degrees at the start in Hopkinton).

"Tying [Nietlispach's] streak was my immediate goal," said Van Dyk. "I worked very hard to attain that goal and I just feel great. Franz is one of the all-time great racers, and tying his mark is like a dream come true. Now I'd like to return here next year and try for five in a row."

Van Dyk looked at Jeannot and said, "Joel is a great athlete and many times I felt I would have to break the record to stay ahead of him. Joel raced a very strong race and at the halfway mark I knew I would have to break the record to stay ahead of him. So I refocused.

"I didn't mind the hot weather at all. When I'm home in South Africa, I practice in 100-degree weather."

Nietlispach said, "Ernst is much better than I am. I'm older now [46]. I feel good with my third-place finish. Actually I'm pleased, because I did not do much chair racing the past eight months. I did mostly handcycle racing. I feel this race belongs to Ernst now. He's a great athlete." Jeannot said, "I'm upbeat and felt I had a good race. But Ernst raced well and was strong."

Van Dyk might dominate the wheelchair division for a few years. "I love this race," he said. "I always race against the best people in the world here and that's rewarding. I love the way all the fans cheered along the course. In some races there are no fans. As far as I'm concerned, this is the granddaddy of all marathon races."

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