One of Australia’s most accomplished wheelchair athletes will contest the full 42.195km Gold Coast Airport Marathon for the first time on his road to Rio.
Three-time Paralympic gold medallist Kurt Fearnley will look to add a Gold Coast Airport Marathon win on Sunday to his personal results honour board, including his 2009 Gold Coast Wheelchair Half Marathon win in race record time.
Then in just over two months’ time, Fearnley will target his fourth Paralympics gold medal to add to his dual marathon crowns in 2004 and 2008 and his win over 5000m on the track in 2004.
One of Australia’s most popular sporting identities, Fearnley will also serve as co-captain of the Australian Paralympic Team in Rio.
But Fearnley’s most immediate focus is the Gold Coast Airport Marathon this Sunday, beating a strong field and potentially breaking the long-standing race record of John McLean (1:33:21) from 2000.
The men’s field on Sunday will also feature two-time winner (2012, 2013) Richard Nicholson from Canberra and last year’s winner Bill Chaffey from Bilambil Heights.
Chaffey will join Fearnley in Rio after recently being nominated to represent Australia in the Paralympic triathlon event.
The women’s Gold Coast Airport Marathon wheelchair race is also set to be a cracker on Sunday.
Newcastle athlete Christie Dawes will be striving to finish in an ‘A’ qualifying time of 1:46 which would give her automatic nomination to the Australian Paralympic Team for Rio. This would be her sixth Paralympic Games if selected.
Dawes has already set three ‘B’ qualifying times and is currently the fastest Australian woman over the distance.
Her performances to date may be enough to see her off to Rio, especially given the automatic ‘A’ qualifying time has only been achieved by three women in the world.
Dawes will have some strong competition on Sunday with three-time 15km Wheelchair winner and local girl Sara Tait rising to the marathon distance for the first time as well as the addition of Northern Territory paratriathlon star Emily Tapp.
The Wheelchair 15km race from the Broadwater Parklands in Southport to Burleigh Heads on Sunday will be headlined by two head-to-head battles in both men’s and women’s events.
27-year-old Jono Tang returns to the Gold Coast aiming to go one better than last year’s second place finish (54:02) and claim the men’s Wheelchair 15km title on one of the flattest and fastest courses in Australia.
The ACT wheelie’s recent string of solid performances, including back-to-back Oz Day 10km Wheelchair Road Race T52 wins (2015 & 2016), indicates he is a strong chance to beat fellow competitor Shunsuke Kido.
Japan’s Kido, 30, will make his Gold Coast Wheelchair 15km debut after being inspired by other wheelchair athletes when he visited the Gold Coast for spinal rehabilitation recently.
The women’s race features 20-year-old Emily Preketes, who made the switch from basketball, a sport she had been playing since the age of seven, to athletics two years ago after competing in the Oz Day 10km Wheelchair Road Race.
Preketes, the 200m national champion, will line up alongside two-time Oz Day 10km Wheelchair Road Race Junior Female U19 winner Kelly Darragh who will be looking to improve on her 2014 third place time of 1:12:53.
The Wheelchair Marathon and 15km races at the Gold Coast Airport Marathon will both start at 7.15am on Sunday.
Wheelchair Marathon – Men
Kurt Fearnley (NSW)
Bill Chaffey (NSW)
Richard Nicholson (ACT)
Jason Mcgregor (QLD)
Nige Young (WA)
Wheelchair Marathon – Women
Christie Dawes (NSW)
Emily Tapp (ACT)
Sara Tait (QLD)
Justine Dawson (WA)
Wheelchair 15km – Men
Jono Tang (ACT)
Shunsuke Kido (Japan)
Wheelchair 15km – Women
Kelly Darragh (QLD)
Emily Preketes (NSW)
Wheelchair Marathon Race Records
John McLean (AUS) 1:33:21 2000
Louise Sauvage (AUS) 1:51:13 1998
Wheelchair 15km Race Records
Rheed McCracken (AUS) 39:12 2014
Sara Tait (AUS) 47:22 2015