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Weir Lines up for London

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David Weir Paralympics 2008
Weir - part of a world class wheelchair marathon line up

 

06 February 2009

The best athletes ever assembled will line up for the start of the Flora London Wheelchair Marathon on Sunday 26th April this year.

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.

In the women’s race, Shelly Woods will seek to regain the title she won in 2007 – also in a quality line up.

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.

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.

“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.

“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 London Marathon is also playing an important role in identifying wheelchair stars of the future. As part of UK Athletics’ Aviva Parallel Success programme, the London Marathon is providing 25 racing wheelchairs to young athletes aged 11-17 who will compete in the adidas Mini London Marathon Wheelchair race on 26th April.

"Aviva Parallel Success can potentially provide hundreds more young people with the chances I had growing up," said double Paralympic champion David Weir MBE.

"I was lucky enough to be introduced to the sport at my primary school, Bedelsford School in Kingston, when my teacher got an application for the London Mini Marathon. He asked me if I would like to race, so I first represented my school aged eight in the London Marathon, and loved it.”

David Bedford, race director of the Flora London Marathon, said: “The London Marathon is very proud to be part of this programme, especially in identifying wheelchair athletes at the beginning of their careers, and providing 25 racing wheelchairs. We are very committed to contributing to the long-term development of these athletes.”

For more information visit  

www.uka.org.uk/grassroots/parallel-success/