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Mokoka shines in Shanghai, Van Dyk seals silver in New York
- Updated: November 3, 2014
By Mark Etheridge
It was a super Sunday for South African athletes in both the east and west as they continued to fly the flag proudly.
Pick of the bunch was Stephen Mokoka as the 2012 Olympian won the Shanghai Marathon in China in a course record 2hr 08min 43sec.
And on the other side of the world it was Paralympic veteran Ernst van Dyk who bought more accolades South Africa’s way with a silver medal in the wheelchair division of the New York Marathon. In the elite men’s division Eastern Cape athlete and also a 2012 Olympian, Lusapho April ended 12th in 2:16.50, unable to build on his third-place from last year.
Mokoka headed east in excellent form, having won last month’s Great Scottish Run half-marathon in Glasgow for a confidence booster.
On Sunday, Mokoka powered away in the final stages, just pipping Ethiopia’s Abreham Cherkos who was four seconds slower. Kenyan Stephen Chemlany was third in 2:08.56.
Mokoka’s time beats the 2012 record of Kenyan Sylvester Teimet by 18 seconds. Things may have been a bit easier for Mokoka than in previous years as organisers moved the race forward by roughly a month to avoid the notorious December pollution.
Heading back west and Van Dyk was pipped to gold by Kurt Fearnley, ending one second behind the Australian in a time of 1:30:56.
And Van Dyk told Road to Rio 2016 that as usual, the New York Marathon is a suffer fest for wheelchair racers.
‘Well, that was honestly the hardest race of my life. The wind prediction was so high that the city made the call that we could not do the start on Staten Island with the fear that one of us might get blown off the bridge or crash badly. So our start was moved forward by three miles to a safer location.
‘Temperatures were low and the wind chill dropped it another couple of degrees. It was the best field NY has ever assembled and it was deep with quality. The dynamics changed completely because they took the first three miles out – that was where we were normally challenged by the steepest climb of the race in the first mile.
‘With that out of the picture we had a big pack of around 25-30 guys for the first 15km or so fighting for position in 25-65km/h cross and head winds. It made things really hard but fortunately there was no crash that I’m aware of.’
The fact that Van Dyk is probably the biggest of the elite wheelchair racers really counted against him in the year’s final major city marathon.
‘I catch a lot wind – especially headwind. Slowly we reduced in numbers as we went through the climbs up to the point were we went down to around 10. We then hit the longest climb of the race. I was having a hard time and saw Fearnley, Thomasz Hamerlak and Josh George (Chicago winner) pull away, and not long after Masazumi Soejima, Pierre Fairbank and Kota Hokinoue also pulled away.’
That meant trouble for Van Dyk as he found himself in no-man’s land, being battered from all sides by the gale and with no-one to use as a draft.
‘It was probably the lowest point of the year for me, in seventh place and nothing in the tank.’
But it’s not in the Paarl powerhouse’s nature to quit and he gritted his teeth and dug even deeper. ‘I first picked up Soejima and started trading the lead with him and working hard. We then later caught Fairbanks, Kota and George. We worked together well and was finally able to gain enough on Fearnley and Hamerlak that we could see them.
‘Soejima surged and I got dropped again but managed to claw myself back to them again. With the final long climb before Central Park we were able to close the gap to Fearnley and Hamerlak and we were back to a pack of six for the final 4km.’
Van Dyk then positioned himself in a handy third spot as the final 400m dawned.
‘When the opportunity was there I committed myself to the sprint – the final 100m is all uphill and being on the heavy side I needed a bit of momentum – I thought I had it but then I started cramping up a bit and Fearnley came back and passed me right before the finish,’ said Van Dyk.
‘For the second year in a row I have placed second in what is the hardest marathon we do and in the closest of sprints.’
So silver it was for Van Dyk but still a memorable year of success under his belt as he picked up more medals at the UCI para-cycling world road championships and also banked a record-breaking 10th Boston Marathon victory.
‘This was my eighth podium finish in 24 months in our major marathons – I would have liked to end the year on a high with a win but it’s been an amazing year and I need some down time now to recover and rebuild.
‘Now I’m looking forward to the SA Sports awards in a few weeks.