Zanardi wins Paralympic gold on eve of 15th anniversary of fateful crash

Italy's Alessandro Zanardi © Luke MacGregor
Former F1 driver Alex Zanardi broke down in tears after winning a gold medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio – just one day before the 15th anniversary of the motorsport crash in Germany in which he lost his legs.

The 49-year-old took first place in the men's road hand-cycling time trial at the Games, to add to the two gold medals he claimed at London 2012.

On September 15, 2001, the car Zanardi was driving during the American Memorial 500 CART race was struck hard by another as he tried to merge back onto the track from a pit row.

Both of his legs were amputated above the knee as a result of the collision.

"I feel very lucky, I feel my life is a never-ending privilege," said Zanardi after claiming his latest gold.

"Where today you have the Olympic Stadium, on that piece of land they used to have an IndyCar circuit, which is where I won my very first pole position - for a romantic guy like me this is quite special.

"When it was announced that the Olympic Stadium was going to be built there I thought, ‘Wow, I've always loved that place and been superfast there'.

"But for some reason or another I never managed to win a race, so maybe it is time to go back to Rio and win something and put that right."

Zanardi did that in style, completing the 20km course in 28 minutes 36.81 seconds - nearly three seconds quicker than silver medalist Stuart Tripp of Australia.

The Italian was widely praised for his bravery after returning to racing less than two years after the accident, competing in the FIA World Touring Car Championship for BMW Team Italy-Spain between 2003 and 2009.

He took up hand-cycling and immediately set his sights on London 2012 where he defied the odds to secure two gold medals and one silver.

But despite his success, Zanardi says his achievements are no different to any of the other competitors in Rio.

"Even my accident, what happened to me, became the biggest opportunity of my life," he said. "All the things I am doing today are related to my new condition.

"When you find yourself in a certain situation you have to identify where you want to go and focus on what you can achieve on that given day.

"Whether it is a small thing or big one, step-by-step you can make things happen.

"At the time I was asked if I would ever step back in a race car, but what was very important for me was to go into the bathroom and pee on my own, but I could not do that.

"I had to be helped. That was my number one priority. Day by day I managed to regain control and strength, regain some confidence and concentrate on different things and here I am now."

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