BRANDS HATCH, United Kingdom (AFP) –
An emotional Alessandro Zanardi on Wednesday clinched Paralympic gold in the individual H4 (hand-cycle) time-trial, savouring victory at the circuit where he once raced sports cars.
The 45-year-old Italian’s time of 24min 50.22sec over the 16km course was good enough to clinch victory at Brands Hatch from Norbert Mosandl of Germany, who finished 27sec behind, and US rider Oscar Sanchez, who was 45sec back.
Zanardi, a former F1 pilot for Minardi and Lotus who also drove in Indy and touring car races, was critically injured and had to have both legs amputated after a horror smash in 2001.
He battled back into sport, even competing in a touring car race at Brands Hatch in a specially-adapted car with hand controls, before turning his attention to hand-cycling.
Last year, he won the category at the New York Marathon.
His average speed on Wednesday — 38.652 kilometres (24.017 miles) per hour — was considerably less than his previous best at the fabled circuit in the county of Kent, southeast England.
But he said: “This is a great accomplishment, one of the greatest of my life. I worked very hard to get here. It was great to live such an experience at 45…
“With an engine pushing me, I didn’t realise it (the Brands Hatch circuit) was so hilly. It is very hard but if I had to design a course, this is what I would have done.
“It is beautiful, hard, it suits my characteristics of an old man.”
Zanardi retired from motor racing three years ago and said the Paralympic Games would be his last in hand-cycling.
“It (retiring from motor racing) seemed a stupid thing to do to drop everything. It was against all odds. But it’s not the first crazy thing that I do in life. At the end I was right,” he added.
“I enjoyed every day of training. I’ve had a magical adventure and this is a fantastic conclusion.”
Zanardi’s performance was one of the highlights of a day that saw Britain’s Sarah Storey clinch her third gold medal of the Games, taking the Paralympic women’s individual C5 time-trial title after double success on the track.
“I just wanted to make sure I added my name to that list of success. I just can’t believe it,” said Storey, who was born without a functioning left hand and now has 10 Paralympic golds in swimming and cycling.
In the equivalent men’s race, Ukraine’s Yegor Dementyev took gold, while Czech rider Jiri Jezek exacted revenge over Carol-Eduard Novak in the C4 time-trial after the Romanian beat him on the track.
Jezek has now won four golds in four Games.
In the men’s individual C3 time-trial, David Nicholas added to Australia’s cycling medal tally, while Germany’s Tobias Graf and Michael Teuber struck gold in C2 and C1 class. Graf had already picked up a silver and bronze on the track.
In the women’s races, Megan Fisher of the United States saw off a challenge from Australia’s track gold medallist Susan Powell in the C4 time-trial, while compatriot Allison Jones took the C1-2-3 equivalent.
Jones said the win more than made up for her experience in Beijing, where she was denied the gold because of time adjustments based on cyclists’ impairments in the mixed classification race.
In the men’s individual time-trial for blind and visually impaired riders, Spain’s Christian Venge, with pilot David Llaurado Caldero took gold, while Kathrin Goeken and Kim Van Dijk took the women’s equivalent.