Canadian wheelchair racer Cassidy gunning for another Boston title, world record

Associated Press

Josh Cassidy doesn't care who won last year's Boston Marathon or exactly how fast the winning time was.

The thing is, it was Cassidy who wheeled to victory in the storied race last year, and that world-record winning time is his.

The Canadian wheelchair racer will be gunning for his second consecutive Boston Marathon victory on Monday, but he'd rather not talk about last year. "Defending," according to Cassidy, is a bad word.

"Defending my title is going to be what everyone's asking about, and I think when you're on the defensive there's a lot more pressure," Cassidy said. "I'm actually looking at it as more of an attack. Rather than defending my title, I want to attack that course and I want to win it and I want to break the record, and I don't care who won it last year.

"I'm saying that it doesn't matter. I'm putting away the pressure of last year and having to live up to expectations."

The 28-year-old from Oakville, Ont., beat the intense Boston heat last year to win the 42.195-kilometre race in one hour 18 minutes 25 seconds — the fastest wheelchair marathon ever, and a full 12 minutes faster than the winning time at the London Paralympics four months later.

The victory sent Cassidy to the London Games with lofty expectations. But if Boston was the high point of his season, the Olympics were the low point. Cassidy was fifth in the Olympic 800 metres, 10th in the 1,500 and 12th in the marathon at the Games.

"London was extremely frustrating for me," said Cassidy, who was taking antibiotics during the Games to treat an illness.

"I was just so pumped on antibiotics that it just depleted everything, and to perform at that kind of level you need you need all the energy and you need to be completely healthy, and that was the one week out of four years where I wasn't.

"It was very tough emotionally, mentally. . . All the support, all the hard work I put in every single day for four years, and then for it to turn like that was difficult."

Instead of taking time off after London as planned, he threw himself into his training.

"I just sort of switched modes and just kept on going, that was the easiest way to put it behind was to just keep moving forward," he said.

Cassidy won the Chicago marathon in October, and more recently won several track races in Australia — part of his warm-weather training escape from Toronto's harsh winter.

The forecast in Boston on Monday calls for a high of 12 C, far less punishing than the scorching 31 C that sapped the field's strength last year.

Cassidy is a fan of warm weather, though, and said rain could become a major concern Monday.

"If weather turns bad just brings up a whole bunch of different variables that plays with the field and levels it out," he said.

The Canadian said Monday's field is stronger than last year with the addition of Swiss racer Marcel Hug, silver medallist in the London Olympic marathon.

Canadian Diane Roy finished third in last year's women's wheelchair race in Boston.

Six days after racing in Boston, Cassidy will be five time zones away, wheeling up to the start line of the London Marathon, a race he won in 2010.

Racing back to back, marathons, he explained, is a luxury that doesn't extend to able-bodied runners.

"We can definitely handle more marathons in a year than able-bodied runners," Cassidy said. "The training is different because it's a power endurance sport. You look at the wheelchair racers and most of them have big strong upper bodies more like a sprinter's upper body than a distance runner. It's just the different muscle systems and the nature of the sport."

Cassidy, the oldest of 10 kids, was diagnosed with cancer of the spine and abdomen weeks after birth.

The wheelchair racers push off from the line Monday about 45 minutes before the elite wave of runners. The course for the world's oldest annual marathon follows a point-to-point route from Hopkinton to Boston.

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