Preview of the Flora London Wheelchair Marathon 2006

11th April 2006
by Don G Taylor
The listing was posted by Disability Sport Events

Disability Sport Events organises the wheelchair race section of the country's biggest marathon.
Sunday 23rd April 2006



Preview of the Flora London Wheelchair Marathon

Men’s Race

SAUL’S HAT TRICK BID TO BE CHALLENGED BY VAN DYK

Saul Mendoza the Mexican Athlete of the 20th century will try to become the first male athlete to win the Flora London Wheelchair Marathon in three consecutive years when he goes to the start line on 23rd April.  He has proved he is able to win races in a sprint finish like last year or he can lead from the front and create a procession of athletes in his wake as he did in 2004.  Mendoza has the second fastest recorded marathon in the field with a personal best of 1h 21.06 but it is expected he will be challenged by Ernst Van Dyk.  The South African posted a worlds fastest marathon time when he won at Boston in 2004 becoming the first athlete to break 1h 20.00 with an exceptional time of 1h 18.27 but he pointed out, “Even though it is the fastest time it cannot be ratified as a world record as Boston is a point to point race.”

Van Dyk has taken part in London only once in 2000 when he was beaten by Britain’s Kevin Papworth in a sprint finish recording 1h 47.11.  He has improved a lot since then and could be a new winner but he does not like the cold so we know what weather the other athletes will want.   In 2005 in addition to the Boston he won in New York with a course record and was champion in Oita, Paris and Seoul.  There can be no doubt he likes Boston where he has won five times but the intricacies of the London course should test him and ensure a competitive race with Mendoza.  Van Dyk’s website (www.ernstvdyk.co.uk) records the versatility of this great athlete. As well as competence on the road in 2001 he established world records of 47.05s for 400 metres and 1m 32.17 for 800 metres.

Ernst is also an outstanding performer on the Handcycle winning gold in the road race and time trial in the South African championships and three other major races including the prestigious Saddlers Ultra Challenge in Alaska.  Van Dyk is also in demand as a motivational speaker tackling the subjects of overcoming adversity and setbacks and how best to use the cards you have been dealt.

There are a further five racers who have times of 1h 30.00 or better who on their day, if Saul and Van Dyk are not in top form could contest for the title.

Frenchman Denis Lemeunier now a veteran is a consistent first six placer and the winner in 2001 will stay with Saul and Ernst hoping the pack breaks up.  Next comes another Frenchman Alain Fuss who was third in 2004 and although outside the first six last year was only 13 seconds behind Mendoza in the most competitive race of the series.

Next on the starting grid is the ebullient Canadian Jeff Adams who was second in 2005 only three seconds adrift.  He has the character and personality to reverse the decision this time.    

Then comes Britain’s Tushar Patel the first athlete to progress from the Mini Marathon to take part at the full distance.  He has been an ever present competitor since 1998 and showed gradual improvement each year until he was second to his training partner David Weir in 2002.   Patel’s greatest disappointment was achieving the qualifying time for the Athens Paralympics just one day too late.  He admits, “My training is not going too badly, though not as good as last year and with six weeks to go I need to pick it up.
I also have a new custom built Draft racing wheelchair so I’ve got to get used to that as well.”  As regard to his chances in London he said, “To have a realistic chance of winning I need to stay with the group and pull away in the last few miles so as not to give the sprinters a chance.”  He has never beaten Weir in a sprint for the line.  In 2005 Patel finished runner up in the Great North Run but was again beaten by Weir.  Tushar is the holder of the British 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 metres records so he has the ability to do well but his fitness may be challenged.

Speedy sprinter David Weir is perhaps Britain’s best chance of victory.  He is the first athlete to win the Mini Marathon, which he did a number of times and win at the full distance and has been in the medals four other times. David is a lottery-funded sprinter and has concentrated on the short distances with exceptional success.  Last year he won a gold medal at 200 metres in the Paralympic World Cup and a double sprint gold in the World Championships.  He holds all Britain’s sprint records – 14.4seconds for 100 metres, 25.4 seconds for 200 metres and 47.19 seconds for 400 metres.
 To show his versatility he won the Great North Run half marathon in 42 minutes; a British and course record. 

He said, “I really want to win the London again, I love the race and the crowd and my training is going well. I am doing more mileage than in recent years and have a new Draft racing wheelchair which I will be used to by race day.”  Any competitor who is in the finishing straight with David Weir will fear his famous fast finish.

It is unlikely there will be any other contenders for the leading positions but watch out for considerable improvement from Brian Alldis the youngest athlete in the field.  As another previous winner of the Mini Marathon he will expect improvement on his PB of 1h 50 for the full distance, which he recorded in, last years race.


Women’s Race

PORCELLATO AIMS FOR FOUR IN A ROW

Italian Francesca Porcellato is the title holder and will be trying to become the first athlete to win the Women’s race four successive times.  Her PB for the distance is
1h 38.29 and she won last year in 1h 57 00.  All the competitors will be watching the new phenomenon Shelly Woods who will be 20 in June and is ambitious to improve on last year when she nearly caused a sensation being beaten by only three seconds.

Tanni Grey-Thompson a London regular and holder of eleven gold Paralympic medals will be taking part in the event for the 15th time.  Her performances are very consistent and if Francesca and Shelly are not at their best Tanni could nip in for a 7th title.  Other contenders are Athens Paralympic sprint medallist Deborah Brennan and Sarah Piercy the surprise winner of the race in 2000.


THE NEXT GENERATION

In the 2005 Flora London Wheelchair Marathon two athletes emerged and demonstrated they have the potential to be the next generation of top athletes in the Paralympic Games.

SHELLY WOODS was only 18 but she challenged the experienced title holder Italian Francesca Porcellato right to the line and was only beaten by three seconds in an outstanding debut time of 1h 57.03.  She also beat the six times London winner and people’s favourte Tanni Grey-Thompson.

Shelly recalls,  “London Marathon 2005 was my first ever marathon and to be honest I was just expecting to finish in a half decent time.  I wasn’t anticipating any sprint finishes but my coach had told me I would do well.  It was an amazing experience and the atmosphere was electric.”

Since then the bubbly girl from Blackpool who works in the Council’s Sports Development Department has already become a talented athlete.

She told me, “My targets for this year are to improve as quickly as I can, breaking as many PB’s and records as possible.  My winter training has mostly been geared up for the 800 metres race at the Commonwealth Games.”  Her role model Grey-Thompson will be competing for Wales but as Shelly says, “My aim is to make the final.  It will be a tough race with fierce competition from the Canadians and Aussies and I expect the pace to be hot.  Once I make the final and get onto the pack who knows, it’s anybody’s race.”

Since last years London she has had lots of successes.  She finished third in the New York marathon in a PB time of 1h 56.35 and then improved when fourth in Berlin with 1h 52.39.  “My target for London this year is 1h 52.00 and I hope that will be good enough to win.”  If this time is achieved it will be the second fastest winning time in the 24 year history of the event.   To back up these marathon performances she has a string of outstanding times at shorter distances.  Shelly won the Great North Run in a British and course record time of 50m 07 and remembered, “That was the race of my life I climbed the hills really well and beat Francesca by 30 seconds which is a good omen for me in the London and it proved I am capable of winning races.”

On the track she took Tanni’s 5,000 metres record with a time of 12m 24.00 in a race in Switzerland.  In the European Championships she gained a Bronze medal in the 5,000 metres and reached the 1,500 metres final.  Long term, Shelly Woods has set her sights on the Paralympic Games in Beijing but said, “I don’t know yet what is my best distance and I just want to keep improving at all events working on my weaknesses, then I will decide which distances suit me best and most importantly enjoying every minute of it.”  Shelly is already a London Wheelchair Mini Marathon champion but can she win her first senior London Marathon title this year?

BRIAN ALLDIS who is from Bury St. Edmunds, has Spina Bifida but won the Mini Wheelchair Marathon twice in 2001 and 2004, was 18 when he competed in London in 2005.  This was only his second full marathon and he set a personal best of 1h 50.35 in 13th position.  “My training is going really well this year,” he said, “with a six day schedule of 60-70 miles plus three gym sessions including some weight training.  There have been a few changes from last year and I have set a target of 1h 40.00 for the 2006 race.”

Brian who is a versatile athlete explained, “I was shocked and excited when I heard of my first Great Britain selection and although I didn’t win a medal in the European Championships in Finland I achieved personal bests in the 800 and 1,500 metres.”  His respective times were 1m 48s and 3m 24s.  He also won the Cardiff marathon in
2 hours, “but it was a tough course with part of it on grass,” he said.

Like Shelly, Brian has also set his targets for Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.  “I am so keen to represent Britain in the games I don’t mind what event it is,” he commented.

In 2002 he won the Bury Free Press award for courage in sport and he has a Certificate of Merit from the Royal Air Force Benevolent fund.

In the Paralympic fraternity there is considerable excitement about the potential of Shelly Woods and Brian Alldis.


DAVID HOLDING RETIRES

A look back at the extraordinary athletic career of a leading exponent in the London Wheelchair Marathon.

David Holding first came into prominence as a wheelchair athlete with a surprising victory in London in 1989.  At 20 he was the youngest competitor and he sprinted to victory beating more fancied athletes and became the first to break the 2 hours barrier for the distance on the London course with a time of 1h 59.   He then went on to have a 16-year career and to win the event three more times finishing in the top six on 11 occasions.  This phenomenal record was backed up with an outstanding sprinting career with gold and bronze medals in the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta in the 100metres and 200 metres respectively.  He also took the 100 metres bronze medal in Sydney and reached the final of both sprints in Athens.

David takes up the story of his first London victory, “I had entered what was my first major race hoping I could make a good impression but not expecting to be up with the leaders.  Surprisingly I stayed with the pack, which included established marathoners including Chris Hallam a two times winner, Ted Vince, and Scott Paterson and then with a mile to go realised I was in the mix.  Going over Westminster Bridge I sensed I had a chance and put everything into the final 200 metres.  I must have finished so fast I almost brought the finish gantry down.   I was ecstatic; I just could not believe it.  I had won the first major race I had entered.” He took the leading group inside 2 hours and then revealed that a week before the race had completed a prestigious sprinting session of 32x 100 metres sprints with 200 metres recovery, which stood him in good stead.

This result gave David instant recognition and he was immediately known as an athlete with a reputation.  The 2 hour barrier had been predicted for a number of years on what was always seen as a slow course for wheelchair athletes and suddenly a 20 year old breaks it and as often happens with “athletic barriers” many others followed and after 1989 all race winners were under 2 hours.

David continued to impress and his best times for the distance tumbled.  He improved every time he raced at London from 1991 onwards with his best time of
1h 42.15 achieved with his victory in1997.  He is the only athlete to have won the men’s race four times and is still the youngest winner.

When asked if he felt he was a sprinter or long distance racer he replied, “I regard myself as mainly a sprinter having been Paralympic 100 metres champion and world record holder three times firstly at Atlanta with 14.28 secs, then14.33s and finally in Glasgow with 14.28s.”  He also said, “I ran marathons as a sprinter, my racing style is not aerodynamic as I sit up in my chair so I use the pack for protection in marathons and then my sprinting speed at the finish.  I don’t like leading during the race.”  Statistics support this view as on the four occasions he has won the London it has been by 6 seconds or less.  In 1989 he beat the famous Canadian Ted Vince by one second, 1994 it was a battle with Britain’s Ivan Newman and David prevailed by two seconds.  Then in 1996 he won “easily” by six seconds and the following year he was back to his old ways with a one second victory over Swede Hakan Ericsson the 1990 winner.

David said, “I like the London race because the spectators are with you all the way shouting and encouraging and it is not the same in many other marathons.  The worst part of the course used to be the cobbles, which are now removed from the course; I always feared them as they knock you and your chair about creating a bumpy ride and I smile when they are finished.  While I rate my first victory as my greatest achievement on the road my greatest disappointment came the next year.  It was 1990 and three months before the race I’d had an operation, which curtailed my training, but I decided to defend my title.  It was a mistake, the rain and cold weather didn’t help and by 11 miles I was struggling, soon stopped and was taken to Guy’s hospital.  For a long time the race organisers were worried about me as I had gone missing but after an hour I was located suffering from hypothermia. I learnt a lesson that day,” he said, “not to race when you are not fully fit.”

As an athlete David had three coaches and recognises and thanks them for their help and the contribution they made to his successful career.  His first coach was Denis Taylor from athletics who had advised John Wenk an international 800 metres runner.  His second was a cycling coach Dave Tegrays and then Ken Kelly who coaches disabled athletes and he has helped with David’s sprinting.

At his peak David trained at least five days a week and if not racing would do 30 miles at the week end.  During the week he would do 10 miles fast on two days and on another day he would do an interval session of one-mile sprints and then there would be a 14 miler at racing pace.

Holding said, “When the weather was wet or cold I would hive off to my shed and sit on the rollers and push myself to whatever distance was on my schedule.  I don’t use music as distraction, I just focus on the mileometer.”

David told me, “ I like my work as office manager of the Disabled Drivers Club, which has over 25,000 members and we are soon to merge with the Disabled Drivers Association to form a newly branded Mobilise Organisation.

In his spare time he likes eating out so now he has retired from serious competition the Indian and Chinese restaurants in the Kettering area where he lives will see him more often.

David, who was awarded the M.B.E. in 1998 for services to sport for disabled people will be missed as a serious competitor in the London Wheelchair Marathon but those who have seen his dynamic style will remember his outstanding record with relish.


FLORA LONDON WHEELCHAIR MARATHON 2006
SOME OF THE PERSONALITIES
THE MEN

RACE NO

11   
SAUL MENDOZA  MARATHON BEST  1H 21.06
MEXICAN   AGE  39

The winner of the last two London Marathons.  He will be hoping to be the first athlete to achieve a hat trick of victories though he may not start as favourite this time.
He won the Paralympic 1,500 metres title in Athens and is aiming to win the Paralympic Marathon title at Beijing in 2008.  He says, “The highlight of my career was wining the Gold Medal at the Sydney Olympic Games at 1500 metres in an Olympic record.  In training he tots up 200 miles a week and has won 6 Paralympic medals.  Mendoza now lives in Texas and works for his sponsor, “Instituto Mexiquense del Deporte Eagle Wheelchairs.”  He contracted polio when only 6 months old but has always loved sports and his athletic ability was spotted when playing Basketball.  He has won more than 200 road races during his career and became Mexican Athlete of the 20th Century.  He is also proficient at Kayaking and Horseback Riding.

12   
ERNST VAN DYK  MARATHON BEST  1H 18.27      
SOUTH AFRICAN  AGE  33 

The fastest wheelchair marathon racer in history with a time of 1h 18.27 achieved at Boston in 2004 a race he has won five times.  This time cannot be accepted as a world record as it was made on a point-to-point course.  Ernst has only entered the London marathon once before in 2000 when he finished second.  In 2005 he won five major city marathons in New York, Oita, Paris and Seoul as well as Boston.  He is a versatile athlete and established world records at 400 and 800 metres in 2001 with respective times of 47.05 and 1h 32.17.  In 2005 he beat Saul Mendoza by .01 of a second in the Paris marathon so the race between the two main protagonists should be exciting.  Ernst is also a competent on the handcycle winning a number of races including the Saddlers Ultra Challenge in Alaska.


14   
DENIS LEMEUNIER MARATHON BEST  1H 26.05
FRENCH   AGE  41

Has a good record in the London, winning in 2001 and being third three times.  Last year he finished only 6th but in the sprint finish he was only 13 seconds behind the winner.  After the retirement of Joel Jeannot, Denis leads the French contingent.  In 2004 he won the French half marathon championship and the French Cup.  Denis has a best track 5000 metres time of 10m 18.  Prior to a motocross accident in 1994 he was a racing cyclist for 12 year

15   
ALAIN FUSS   MARATHON BEST  1H 29.39
FRENCH   AGE  37

Alain was third in 2004 and finished in the same time as Lemeunier last year.   He became a paraplegic after falling from a tree in 1985.  As well as wheelchair-racing Alain is a Software Project Manager.

16   
JEFF ADAMS  MARATHON BEST  1H 29.45
CANADIAN   AGE   34

Jeff was runner up in 2005 being beaten in the sprint finish but he was pleased with this performance after being placed only fifth the year before, having to complete the race on a flat tyre.  He has won 11 Paralympic Medals over 4 Paralympic Games and has held World Records at 5000m, 1500m, 1 mile, 400m and as part of the Canadian 4x100m relay team.  His rivalry with Mendoza and Van Dyk will be lively but he will hope to be in the medals. He uses motor pacing in training and also trains with his partner Kristine on a bicycle.

Jeff is a lively personality proclaiming the philosophy of access for all.  
At college he was once described as a fire hazard.  He was tempted to sue the college but offered a more productive idea and developed a school outreach programme and wants all children to experience and feel what is like to be disabled.  He describes wheelchair racing as, “cool, violent, tough and addictive.”  A virus called “transverse myelitis” landed him in a wheelchair when he was nine years old.  He earns a living as a motivational speaker

Jeff is reputed to have climbed the 1776 steps of the Toronto CN tower in his wheelchair.


17   
TUSHAR PATEL  MARATHON BEST  1H 30.00
BRITISH   AGE 27

Tushar has taken part in every London Marathon since 1998 when he was the first athlete to graduate from the Mini Marathon.  His best position was second in 2002 when he was beaten by his training partner David Weir. This year he has a new Draft custom built racing wheelchair but admits he is short of training.  He has never beaten Weir in the London and knows he needs to be well ahead of the sprinters to have a realistic chance of success.  In 2005 he was runner up in the Great North Run and holds the British records at 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 metres.  He has great desire to be a Paralympian and his greatest disappointment was qualifying for Athens  a day after the eligible date so was not selected

In 2002 he won the Asian Up and Coming Sports Personality of the Year awarded by Sony TV and was also the London Male Disabled Sports Personality of the Year.  Tushar was born in India and contracted polio when he was two years old.

18   
DAVID WEIR  MARATHON BEST  1H 32.00
BRITISH   AGE  26

The versatile David Weir is the best chance of a British victory and he has a reputation of being world class at all distances from 100 metres to the marathon.  As a sprinter in the Athens Paralympics he won silver and bronze medals in the 100 and 200 metres respectively.  In the short sprint he also gained a world record of 14.17 in the heats.  He says, “I was too tentative in the final as there had already been a false start.”

He now holds all British sprint records with 14.4 seconds for 100 metres, 25.4 seconds for 200 metres and 47.19 for the 400 metres.  David is the first athlete to win the Mini Marathon, which he did a number of times and then go on to win at the classic distance

He has been London Disabled Sportsman of the Year and like Patel is coached by Christine Parsloe and Jenny Archer of the Velocity Wheelchair Racing Club.  These two coaches carried off the London Coaches of the Year award in 2004.

David says, I really love competing at London and have stepped up my mileage hoping I can win again.


21   
ANDREW CHEEK  MARATHON BEST IH 46.28
BRITISH AGE  42

Prior to a motorcycle accident in 1988 Andrew was English Junior Power Lifting Champion in 1983 and later became runner-up in the Senior Championship.


22   
BRIAN ALLDIS MARATHON BEST  1H 50.00
BRITISH AGE  19

The youngest entrant, he is another graduate from the Mini Marathon, which he won in 2001 and 2004.  He was a revelation last year when he finished 13th in 1h 50.26 which represented 40 minutes improvement on his PB and he is aiming for further improvement this year. In 2005 he earned his first British vest in the European Championships in Finland and achieved personal bests in both the 800 and 1,500 metres.  He also won the Cardiff Marathon in 2hours,”but it was a hard course with some of it on grass,” he said.  His long term targets are to take part in the Paralympic Games in Beijing and London and he is so keen to represent his country that he does not mind which event. He has spina bifida and in 2002 he received a sports award for courage from the Free Press in Bury St. Edmunds where he lives and in 1999 when only 12 was awarded a certificate of merit from the RAF Benevolent Fund.

25   
STEVE WILLIAMSON MARATHON BEST  1H 56.32
BRITISH/AMERICAN AGE  35

Became a Paraplegic following a car accident in 1993.  His highest position in the London was in 2004 when he finished ninth despite having a puncture but his PB was achieved in last years competitive race.  Since starting Wheelchair Racing in 2002 he has won the Manchester Marathon and in 2004 won the Wakefield 10k.  His potential has been recognised and he is a member of UK Athletics Potential Squad preparing for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.


32   
STEVE DERWIN MARATHON BEST  2H 36.00
BRITISH AGE 55

This retired Youth and Community Officer is the oldest contestant but is unlikely to finish in the top half of the field and since a motorcycle accident severed his spinal cord he has concentrated on flying.  He flies powered aircraft and gliders and in 1999 won the Royal International Air Tattoo scholarship for the disabled.  Steve has an Airman’s Flying Certificate and is Chairman of the British Disabled Flying Club.

Prior to his accident he won the Devises to Westminster Open Canadian Canoe race.  He climbed Mount Kenya in 1982 and was a member of a mountaineering expedition, which made the first ascent of Mount Milpacrachu in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.


36   
MICHAEL MARTEN MARATHON BEST  2H 45.00
BRITISH AGE  47

Michael continues his quest to take part in 100 marathons so he can join the”100 Marathon Club.”  During a two-year period he did 32 marathons including 7 in 7 weeks.  He became a paraplegic in a Water Skiing accident on a NATO exercise in Southern France while a member of the Royal Navy Clearance Diving Team.  Prior to the accident he contested almost 100 fights as an amateur boxer.  He has been last in most of his marathons and expects to continue the sequence.

37  
RIC CASSELL MARATHON BEST 2h 32.46
BRITISH AGE  53

Ric is the Technical Advisor and member of the Wheelchair Organising Committee and former Chair of the British Wheelchair Racing Association.  He has competed in 21 of the 24 races held with his best performance being 2h 32.46 in 1997.  Ric is a quadriplegic with spinal damage high on the back, which means he has less power in his arms and shoulders than those lower lesions.  Consequently his times will always be slower than many of his colleagues.  In 1999 he was the first “quad to finish.


THE WOMEN

RACE NO

1  
FRANCESCA PORCELLATO   MARATHON BEST  1H 38.29
ITALIAN    AGE  35

“The most beautiful but challenging and best marathon in the World.”  These are the words of Francesca Porcellato the winner of the last three London Marathons, only the second athlete to achieve this feat since Kay McShane won each race between 1984 and 1986.  She will be trying for a fourth win in a row but will be severely challenged this year.



TANNI GREY-THOMPSON MARATHON BEST  1H 47.00
BRITISH    AGE 36

Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson is the best known and most recognised disabled athlete.   In the Paralympics she has the outstanding record of winning 11 gold medals.  The most recent of these were achieved in the 100 and 400 metres at the Athens Paralympics.  On the London course she has won the title six times, which is more than anyone else.    The Commonwealth Games 800 metres will be her first target before going to the line for her 15th London Marathon. She is an established media celebrity regularly appearing on television and radio.  Tanni was a member of the team, which won the Olympics and Paralympics for London in 2012 and made a presentation when the bid was being assessed.



SHELLY WOODS   MARATHON BEST   1H 52.36
BRITISH    AGE  19

Shelly was the surprise in the 2005 London pushing the champion Porcellato to the line and only losing by three seconds in what was her debut marathon.  She is still the youngest competitor and since last years race has improved her PB twice finishing third at New York in 1h 56.35 and fourth in Berlin in 1h 52.39.  Shelly has improved significantly since she was a Mini marathon winner.  She won the Great North Run beating Francesca Porcellato by 30 seconds, which should give her confidence for the 2006 London.  Her track form is good too and she won a Bronze medal at 800 metres in the European Championships and before she goes to the line in London she will be hoping to do well in the Commonwealth Games 800 metres.   Her long-term targets are to become a Paralympian firstly at Beijing and then at London but she says, “I don’t know yet what is my best event and I just want to keep improving and most importantly enjoying it.” 
 


PATRICE DOCKERY  MARATHON BEST  2H 00.18
IRISH     AGE

Patrice returns to the event for the first time since 1999 when she finished third. Her best time of Patrice should put her up with the leaders at least in the early stages
  

5  
DEBORAH BRENNAN  MARATHON BEST  2H 18.00
BRITISH    AGE  27

Deborah’s best finish was in 2001 when she was runner-up.  She won two Paralympic medals as a sprinter in Athens.

6  
SARAH PIERCY   MARATHON BEST  2H 23.00
BRITISH    
Sarah was the winner in 2000 but the winning times since then have moved on.