Don’t be fooled. The six-time Paralympic gold-medal-winning ‘plodder’ is still careering around London’s Richmond Park in training with real intent, and has an old friend now helping him since he returned from finishing fifth in the Tokyo Games.
Could carbon chair make difference?
“Since the Paralympics, I’ve actually gone back to my old frame, a carbon chassis, because I felt I was losing a little bit of power through the chair because it was aluminium. And I feel the training’s gone well in the last two weeks since I’ve been back in my old chair.”
Weir even thinks his old ally could help him find the extra couple of seconds that proved the difference between him winning or losing last year’s race, when he finished runner-up behind Lakatos.
But Hug, the man they call the ‘Silver Bullet’, is overwhelming favourite after his Paralympic heroics, which saw him win four golds from 800m to the marathon.
“Marcel’s got a Ferrari of a chair,” said Weir. “I don’t really want to take it away from Marcel because he’s a fantastic athlete and he’d probably have won a shedload of medals in Tokyo anyway, but with his performances you can see he’s got extra gains from that chair.
“He’s in the prime age for racing. If you look back at 2012, I was 33 and he’s 35 now.
“As for the technology, it’s moving forward and that’s what I want to see. I’m happy to see it because I love to see our sport get faster and better.”
‘Rocket Man’ also a threat
Weir knows Hug’s far from the only threat though. The 2019 winner Daniel ‘Rocket Man’ Romanchuk is a 23-year-old American phenomenon coming off a Paralympics that saw him demonstrate the most incredible range, winning a 400m gold as well as a marathon bronze in Tokyo. “He’s just a freak of nature, I think,” smiled Weir.
This is a uniquely busy period for the elite wheelchair athletes, who are jetting around trying to make their mark in as many of the five Abbott World Marathon Majors that are happening this year as they can in the space of seven weeks, with Chicago and Boston actually taking place back-to-back on 10 and 11 October.
Romanchuk is doing them all, as is the indefatigable Tatyana McFadden, who’s battling back to something like her old supreme form after a long fight to recover from a blood clotting disorder, which was first diagnosed four years ago.
Busy – and challenging – times
Schär, who’s itching to win a third title in London after losing out to Den Boer in the rain last year, admits it is a hectic spell. “It’s difficult to travel at the moment, and with every flight there’s a risk of losing a chair or having it damaged, and I just got back from Berlin on Monday to find my chair didn’t make it home!
“So I only got it back just a few hours before I had to fly to London. It’s definitely a challenging time.”
For all the athletes, though, the real pleasure is just to be back out there racing again in front of enthusiastic spectators – and according to Weir, there none more enthusiastic than those who line the streets in London.
Awesome, electric and loud
Asked if they could make the difference between winning and losing, Weir said: “It could be. They do push you along, especially if you’re struggling at certain parts of the race. You don’t really get that at any other marathon, so it’s always special to race in London and I think that’s what brings me back, because of the spectators along the street from Start to Finish.
“I think there’s going to be more interest than ever because people haven’t seen the marathon for so long.
“It’s going to be awesome, electric and loud – and that’s what I like, that’s what London’s about.”