Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Girl struck by wheelchair racer

By Greg Sukiennik
The Associated Press

BOSTON - Wheelchair racer Krige Schabort struck a 7-year-old girl during Monday's Boston Marathon, slightly injuring the youngster and perhaps costing him a chance at victory.

The accident occurred around mile 11 in Natick, when Schabort and third-place finisher Kelly Smith still had defending champion Ernst Van Dyk in their sights.

"She ran straight across the street and she was looking away," he said.

Schabort shouted, and he heard spectators shouting, too. But his three-wheeled racing chair, moving at about 17 mph, hit the girl with its front and left wheels, spilling Schabort.

Race officials said the girl was treated at Metro West Medical Center and released.

Schabort righted his wheelchair and rode on, but the two-time defending champion had pulled away, finishing the men's race in 1 hour, 28 minutes and 32 seconds. Schabort finished second for the second year in a row, with a time of 1:30:07.

Van Dyk, 30, of South Africa, was on pace for a course record through the first nine miles. But Schabort and Smith and were still in contention.

"I tried do what I could to close the gap," said Schabort, 39, a South African who lives in Cedartown, Ga. "I thought I was getting closer to Ernst."

But the collision ruined his chance to make a move.

Schabort did not file an appeal. However, an appeal would not change the results of the race because the incident did not involve contact between racers, according to race official Steve Vaitones.

Schabort first words after arriving in the finishers' tent were, "How's the kid?" Vaitones said.

Van Dyk led the men's race wire to wire, but a headwind dashed his chances of beating the course record.

"In the end, when I crested Heartbreak Hill and I didn't see (Schabort and Smith), I was relieved. I knew they couldn't catch me after that," he said.

Only three men have won the wheelchair race in the past nine years. Switzerland's Franz Nietlispach won in 1995 and from 1997-2000. Heinz Frei won in 1994 and 1996.

In the women's race, Christina Ripp beat Cheri Blauwet and last year's winner, Edith Hunkeler, in a three-way battle for the women's crown. Ripp, of Savoy, Ill., won in 1:54.47, besting Blauwet by 10 seconds.

The 22-year-old University of Illinois student dueled with Hunkeler and Blauwet for most of the 26.2-mile course until she and Blauwet pulled away with eight miles to go. She took the lead for good with about a mile remaining and sprinted up Boylston Street for the win.

"During the last turn (Blauwet) and I were both tired," she said. "And we just pushed it out."

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