by Brett Larner
World records fell in three of the five divisions of the Sept. 17 Beijing Paralympics Marathon on the final day of competition. The 95 athletes from the combined five classes began together in Tiananmen Square at 7:30 a.m. local time.
First to reach the Bird's Nest were the men's wheelchair competitors, with ten athletes entering the tunnel in a dense pack. Defending gold medalist Kurt Fearnley of Australia, Japan's Hiroki Sasahara and South Africa's Ernst Van Dyk battled for the medal positions, with Fearnley and Sasahara clocking identical times of 1:23:17, a PB for the Australian and SB for the Japanese. Fearnley was awarded the gold in the photo finish, Sasahara receiving the silver and Van Dyk the bronze after finishing just one second back. Japanese athletes in the lead pack also finished 5th, 6th and 7th. Veteran world record holder Heinz Frei of Switzerland, now in his 50's, was 14th in a creditable 1:25:43.
Next to finish were the women's wheelchair racers. Absent from the field was Athens Paralympics silver medalist Wakako Tsuchida, who suffered a crash in the 5000 m and withdrew from the marathon. As with the men's division, a tight pack entered the stadium together. Only five seconds separated the top five finishers, with Edith Hunkeler of Switzerland taking the gold in a PB time of 1:39:59, American Amanda McGrory the silver in 1:40:00 and Hunkeler's compatriot Sandra Graf the bronze in 1:40:01. Italian world record holder Francesca Porcellato was 9th, far behind the lead pack in 1:54:27.
Just behind the women were the impaired limb mobility division wheelchair men. The top four competitors were far ahead of the rest of the field and on world record pace as they approached the finish. World record holder Thomas Geierspichler of Austria edged Japanese rivals Hirokazu Ueyonabara and Toshihiro Takada, taking almost four minutes off his own world record to win gold in 1:40:07. Ueyonabara was just behind in 1:40:10, with Takada, the defending gold medalist, getting the bronze in 1:40:20. 4th place finisher Santiago Jose Sanz of Spain also broke Geierspichler's former world record of 1:43:45, clocking a time of 1:42:05.
The records continued over 45 minutes later when Mexican Mario Santillan, the leader in the upper limb amputee division, broke the world record of 2:31:15 by over four minutes, taking the gold in 2:27:04. Silver medalist Tito Sena of Brazil was almost a kilometer behind Santillan but still broke the previous world record, finishing in 2:30:49. Bronze medalist Walter Endrizzi of Italy took bronze in 2:32:51. Former world record holder Jose Javier Conde of Spain was 11th in 2:45:48.
Just before Sena took his silver, spectators in the Bird's Nest were treated to the race's most resonant performance as Chinese runner Shun Qi set a new world record of 2:30:32 to win the gold medal in the visually imparied class. Colombian Elkin Serna also broke the previous world record of 2:31:31, running 2:31:16 to win the silver medal. Russian Ildar Pomykalov rounded out the medals with a 2:33:27 performance. Defending Paralympic gold medalist Yuichi Takahashi of Japan was a disappointing 16th in 2:43:38, while Kenyan Henry Wanyoike, the world record holder going into the race, was one of two athletes not to finish the race.
Top Finishers - click division for complete results
Men`s Wheelchair Division - T54
gold: Kurt Fearnley, Australia: 1:23:17 - PB
silver: Hiroki Sasahara, Japan: 1:23:17 - SB
bronze: Ernst Van Dyk, South Africa: 1:23:18
4th: Aaron Gordian, Mexico: 1:23:20
5th: Kota Hokinoue, Japan: 1:23:22
6th: Hiroyuki Yamamoto, Japan: 1:23:22
7th: Jun Hiromichi, Japan: 1:23:23
12th: Masazumi Soejima, Japan: 1:23:55
13th: Choke Yasuoka, Japan: 1:24:04
14th: Heinz Frei, Switzerland: 1:25:43
Women's Wheelchair Division - T54
gold: Edith Hunkeler, Switzerland: 1:39:59 - PB
silver: Amanda McGrory, U.S.A.: 1:40:00
bronze: Sandra Graf, Switzerland: 1:40:01
4th: Shelly Woods, U.K.: 1:40:03
5th: Cheri Blauwet, U.S.A.: 1:40:04
9th: Francesca Porcellato, Italy: 1:54:27
Men's Impaired Limb Mobility Wheelchair Division - T52
gold: Thomas Geierspichler, Austria: 1:40:07 - WR
silver: Hirokazu Ueyonabaru, Japan: 1:40:10 - (WR)
bronze: Toshihiro Takada, Japan: 1:40:20 - (WR)
4th: Santiago Jose Sanz, Spain: 1:42:05 - (WR)
5th: Steven Toyoji, U.S.A.: 1:58:37
Men's Upper Limb Amputee Runner Division - T46
gold: Mario Santillan, Mexico: 2:27:04 - WR
silver: Tito Sena, Brazil: 2:30:49 - (WR)
bronze: Walter Endrizzi, Italy: 2:32:51
4th: Guiming Han, China: 2:33:57
5th: Ozivan Bonfim, Brazil: 2:35:31
11th: Jose Javier Conde, Spain: 2:45:48
Men's Visually Impaired Runner Division - T12
gold: Shun Qi, China: 2:30:32 - WR
silver: Elkin Serna, Colombia: 2:31:16 - (WR)
bronze: Ildar Pomykalov, Russia: 2:33:27
4th: Abderrahim Zhiou, Tunisia: 2:35:26
5th Fabrizio Cocchi, Italy: 2:35:27
16th: Yuichi Takahashi, Japan: 2:43:38
19th: Masahito Niino, Japan: 2:51:14
21st: Hiroaki Kajisa, Japan: 2:56:31
DNF: Henry Wanyoike, Kenya
An article from the Beijing Paralympics website about the marathon.
(c) 2008 Brett Larner
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