By Jean Cann
While Manuela Schar of Switzerland took the lead from the start and never looked back, Daniel Romanchuk of Illinois didn’t pull away from his challengers until well after the mid-point of the 123rd Boston Marathon. Both strategies resulted in decisive wins in the Wheelchair Division, solidifying the pair’s spot in Boston Marathon lore.
Romanchuk’s victory in Boston marked a significant milestone, as he became the youngest men’s wheelchair champion in race history, breaking the tape at 20 years old. Patiently pushing through the early miles, Romanchuk made his first big move just prior the halfway point, where he crossed first in 37:36 to earn the Abbott World Marathon Majors Wheelchair Series bonus points.
By that point, only two former Boston champions were in his slipstream: reigning winner Marcel Hug, and two-time champion Masazumi Soejima. Knowing that the hills would be a tough place to gain distance, Romanchuk remained focused and seized the opportunity at 19 miles, gaining a 100 meter lead that never would be reduced.
“I do not go down hills well,” said the Maryland native, now competing for the University of Illinois wheelchair racing team. “I knew that I just needed to calm down and not lose too much ground. Newton’s coming.”
By the top of the Newton hills, Romanchuk had increased his lead to 40 seconds and continued to widen the gap the rest of the way towards Boston. He’d ultimately break the tape in 1:21:36, well ahead of Soejima (1:24:30) and Hug (1:26:42). Romanchuk became the youngest men’s wheelchair Boston Marathon champion ever, and is the first American man to win the division since 1993 when Jim Knaub took home his fifth title.
““Tired,” Romanchuk said when asked how he felt about the victory. “This has been an amazing series. Winning all three [Abbott World Marathon] Majors on American soil has been wonderful. There’s just no other way to describe it.”
Ten-time wheelchair champion Ernst van Dyk of South Africa finished fifth in his 20th Boston Marathon, timing 1:27:25.
On the women’s side, Schar returned this year with unfinished business, or as she said the Swiss call it, ‘an open bill.’ After setting a course record in 2017 and not finishing in 2018, Schar was motivated.
“I was just really happy that the weather turned out to be actually really nice,” said Schar. “When we drove to the start line it looked really, really bad and I was worried because last year is still in our heads.”
The worries quickly eased as the early rain diminished. Schar separated herself from the get-go, winning by more than seven minutes in 1:34:19. By halfway the leading margin was more than three minutes.
“I wanted this,” Schar remarked, emphasizing how meaningful the victory was. “I’m really happy how it turned out.” On racing by herself from Hopkinton to Boston, Schar was honest: “It’s tough, but it’s how I love it.”
After Schar, the finish looked like a dual meet between the U.S. and Australia, with athletes from both countries taking the next six spots. Five-time winner and defending champion Tatyana McFadden of the U.S. held off a fast-finishing Madison De Rozario, 1:41:35 to 1:41:36. A Boston rookie, De Rozario gained some virtual experience from her coach, four-time Boston Marathon champion Louise Sauvage.
“I’m here with my coach and this was her favorite race when she was competing,” said the 25-year-old Aussie. “I think for the last 12 months since we decided we were going to race in Boston today, she’s been telling me all about the course and by the time I got there I felt like as I was racing, every landmark I saw felt somewhat familiar despite me never having actually done it before.”
Schar, with wins at Berlin, Chicago, and New York in 2018 and Tokyo earlier this year, further increased her commanding lead in the Abbott World Marathon Majors Wheelchair Series XII with her victory.
Entering Boston, Romanchuk held a two-point Series lead over Hug after wins at Chicago and New York. He added to that lead not only with his win, but also with the eight half-marathon bonus points.
Each of today’s push-rim wheelchair champions took home $25,000. Principal sponsor John Hancock awarded a total prize purse of $125,000 in the wheelchair division.