Wheelchair stars line up for London
The best athletes ever assembled will line up for the start of the Flora London Wheelchair Marathon on Sunday 26th April this year. Paralympic gold medallists, world record holders, former and defending London champions will race for prize money of more than US$50,000 over 26.2 miles of the capital’s streets in a little over two months’ time.
Beijing hero David Weir, the first man ever to win three London titles in a row, aims for his fourth consecutive victory, fifth in total, against the highest quality field in the event’s 27-year history.
Weir’s top challenger is likely to be his arch rival and double Paralympic Games champion Kurt Fearnley, the Australian he beat in a sprint finish last year. Fearnley won his second Paralympic Games marathon title in Beijing last summer in a Paralympic record, but Weir will be confident after taking Paralympic gold medals in the 800m and 1500m.
“London is my home town, so it’s nice to be among family and friends,” said Weir, who was awarded an MBE in the New Year’s honours list.
“I haven’t got the worry of training for Beijing this year, so you never know what can happen. The marathon field is opening up now with a lot of athletes coming through.”
Among those who’ll be close on Weir’s back wheel is the world record holder Heinz Frei of Switzerland, who was fifth last year, the super-fast South African Ernst Van Dyk, who was sixth, and the Frenchman Denis Lemuenier, a London winner back in 2001.
Saul Mendoza, another previous winner, returns after a two-year absence. London champion in 2004 and 2005, the Mexican will be keen to get back on the podium.
Two Japanese athletes, Masazumi Soejima and Choke Yasuoka, will also be among the challengers. Soejima won the prestigious Padova marathon last year while Yasukoa was unlucky to crash in last year’s race when he finished tenth.
Two Americans, Joshua George and Tony Inigues, will also be in the mix, as will the Spaniard Rafael Jimenez, and the Pole Tomasz Hamelak.
The women’s field is also the strongest to date, featuring the reigning champion, Sandra Graf of Switzerland, the Paralympic champion, Edith Hunkeler, and Britain’s Paralympic Games hero, Shelly Woods.
Graf smashed the 11-year-old course record by more than a minute when she won last year. Then she went on to break the world record in Padova when she clocked 1:35:44.
But Graf couldn’t repeat her winning form in Beijing where Hunkeler triumphed over her compatriot in a Paralympic record with Graf just two seconds behind in third.
“After last year’s fantastic race, I hope to win the London Marathon again. I took a long break after the Paralympics and will be competing in fewer races this year, so my chances look good. The atmosphere in London means it should be another memorable marathon” said Graf.
Woods was another two seconds back in that race and just missed a medal after winning silver and bronze at 1500m and 5000m. After taking the London title in 2007, the 22-year-old Blackpool racer was disappointed to finish third last year and is keen to regain her crown this time.
“Last year was all about Beijing. Hopefully being able to focus on London this winter will help in my overall performance,” said Woods. “The London Marathon is very special to me as it’s the biggest race I get on home soil, and there is nothing like racing at home.”
The women’s field also includes Amanda McGrory, the American who was second here last year and silver medallist in Beijing where she lost out to Hunkeler by one second.
Diane Roy, the world championship record holder from Canada, and Australian debutant Christie Dawes, complete the field.
The full elite fields for the 2009 London Wheelchair Marathon:
Name Country Best time
David Weir GBR 1:27:46
Ernst van Dyk RSA 1:18:27
Heinz Frei SUI 1:20:14
Saul Mendoza MEX 1:21:07
Kurt Fearnley AUS 1:21:10
Masazumi Soejima JPN 1:21:23
Denis Lemeunier FRA 1:22:31
Rafael Botello Jimenez ESP 1:22:18
Choke Yasuoka JPN 1:22:17
Jose Antonio Inigues USA 1:26:04
Tomasz Hamelak POL 1:27:18
Joshua George USA 1:28:05
Name Country Best time
Sandra Graf SUI 1:35:44
Amanda McGrory USA 1:39:20
Edith Hunkeler SUI 1:39:27
Diane Roy USA 1:40:00
Shelly Woods GBR 1:40:19
Christine Dawes AUS 1:52:08