“I didn’t jump on the bicycle because I wanted to win a medal in London. I won a medal in London because I wanted the world to see me step into a bicycle.”
Almost 11 years ago to the day, former Formula One driver Zanardi had come just seconds from death after a catastrophic CART Championships accident in Germany in which he lost both his legs. According to the odds and all medical opinion then or since, he should not have survived.
But being read the last rites in an emergency helicopter was not where Zanardi wanted his story to end.
Repeatedly describing himself as being ‘like a fine wine that just keeps on getting better with age’, Zanardi’s victory was remarkably the one and only time he had ever crossed the finish line at the Kent track in first place.
The highest position he had ever managed was second in 1991, ironically in a much faster vehicle, on four wheels rather than three and with an engine.
“It’s only on the bike that I now realise it was so hilly,” he told British newspaper the Telegraph at the time. “It is beautiful, hard. It suits my characteristics of an old man.”
Zanardi won the men’s individual H4 time trial a clear 27 seconds ahead of second placed German Norbert Mosandl at London 2012. He also won gold in the road race, beating South Africa’s Paralympic champion Ernst van Dyk.
The image of him sat on the finish line, with his carbon fibre racing bike in one hand and making a triumphant fist with the other, quickly became the most iconic image of the Games and gained global attention.
The mental and physical strength of the man was clear for all to see and he received the award for Best Male Games Debut at the 2013 Paralympic Sport Awards.
“I didn’t jump on the bicycle because I wanted to win a medal in London. I won a medal in London because I wanted the world to see me step into a bicycle,” he later said.