Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wheelchair marathon world champion sets sites on Paralympics

From The Australian:

Australia's Kurt Fearnley (pictured) gave an early but loud warning 18 months out from the 2012 London Paralympic Games with back-to-back world championship gold medals in the wheelchair marathon.

The 29-year-old followed up his gold from 2006 in Assen in the Netherlands, with gold again in New Zealand at the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) world titles in Christchurch.

The titles are the last major meet before next year's summer Games and since Fearnley has the Paralympic gold from Athens and Beijing, he has let his fellow competitors know he wants the hat-trick in London.

The 42km marathon today was raced over a 14km course that athletes had to complete three times.

There was high confusion at the start when the local organising committee failed to put full road closures in place throughout the Christchurch streets.

New York marathon winner David Weir, of Great Britain, and Canadian Josh Cassidy, the winner of the London Marathon, withdrew from the race due to concerns about traffic, unwitting pedestrians or even dogs running into the path of athletes.

Fearnley was disappointed with the course conditions at such an important event.

“We train on the roads all the time, you get used to traffic so that doesn't bother me,” he said, “But that's not fair to make athletes have to make a choice like this at a world championships.”

Despite the mixed emotions at the start, Fearnley maintained a commanding position in the lead pack before edging out Swiss world record holder Heinz Frei (silver) by a few hundredths of a second in 1hour:31min:09 seconds. Masazumi Soejima, of Japan took bronze (1:31:10).

Fearnley's win took the Australian gold medal tally to eight. That equals Ukraine and Germany but is well behind China on 21 gold, Russia on 18 with Great Britain on 12.