It was this time last year that London 2012 began its Paralympic legacy, with record crowds coming together for an inspiring two weeks of sport. Olympic fever had swept the nation and sporting fans were all hoping that the Paralympics would continue the party.
The Paralympics more than delivered. I visited the Olympic stadium on “Thrilling Thursday” and witnessed an unparalleled sporting atmosphere. It was electric. (Read the article here)
This was just one night amongst a fortnight of incredible stories. However, Alex Zanardi’s victory in the handcycling at Brands Hatch was one of the great moments of the games. The Italian’s story is made for a Hollywood script. His life journey has been epic and courageous but at last year’s Paralympics, his sporting journey reached its pinnacle.
Zanardi raced in the world of motorsport for a decade. He was a charming character, respected by his peers during his brief spells in Formula One and, in CART racing, Zanardi proved himself to be a winner. His “donut” celebrations became infamous with fans across America.
It was in 2001 that he experienced the devastating crash that resulted in both of his legs being amputated. The charismatic Italian almost lost his life but has never let that accident thwart his love of racing. He helped to design his own custom-made prosthetic legs so that he could return to the track. His positivity and determination never waivered and, in 2006, he won his first race since his crash in the World Touring Car Championship.
Zanardi’s handcycling career began in 2007, when after only a few weeks of training he raced his first marathon in New York and finished in fourth place. It was soon after that he continued to cycle and made the London 2012 Paralympics his target.
Fast forward to 2012 and Zanardi returned to Brands Hatch looking for Paralympic glory. The setting was perfect, the Italian had raced before at Brands Hatch, but never won a race in his car. Returning to the famous motorsport circuit in his handcycle, he won the hearts of the nation as he claimed gold in both the individual H4 time trial and the individual H4 road race in emphatic style. With his handcycle waived high above his head and joyful tears streaming down his face, the Italian’s emotional post-race interviews and celebrations encompassed the spirit of London 2012.
What makes the buoyant Zanardi stand out from the crowd is his unrivalled determination to succeed in sport. His next goal is to win more medals at the 2013 UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships this weekend. At 47, he is adamant that Rio 2016 is his next target, and nobody should doubt him.