Former Formula 1 driver Alex Zanardi won a Paralympic gold medal on the eve of the 15-year anniversary of when he lost his legs in a motorsport crash.

The 49-year-old hand-cyclist, who won two gold medals at London 2012, finished first in the H5 road time trial in Rio on Wednesday.

The Italian needed to have both legs amputated after crashing in the American Memorial 500 Cart in 2001.

“I feel very lucky, I feel my life is a never-ending privilege,” said Zanardi.

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

Zanardi, who has also won eight world titles since first racing a hand bike in 2009, completed the 20k course in 28 minutes 36.81 seconds – less than three seconds quicker than silver medallist Stuart Tripp of Australia.


“Normally I don’t thank God for these type of things as I believe God has more important stuff to worry about, but today is too much, I had to raise my eyes and thank him,” he added.

But Zanardi, who will compete in the road race on Thursday, insisted his story was no more remarkable than those of the other 4,300 athletes competing at the Paralympics.

“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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