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Alessandro Zanardi – Always a Gold Medalist!

September 5, 2012

Zanardi winning WTCC at Brno in the Czech Republic for BMW in 2009 (his second win at the track)
Photo courtesy BMW Motorsport

What’s right with this world?

Alex Zanardi won the gold medal in time trials for the Paralympic Games today at Brands Hatch in Kent, England, using his H4 hand cycle to power away from his competition (they likely had no chance against this force majeur) by half a mile – or was it half a minute?

The margin of victory really doesn’t make much of a difference because the fact of the matter is that Zanardi, the irrepressible racer won’t be beat at anything he does – and shouldn’t. Zanardi’s force of will trumps his physical supremacy at everything he’s ever attempted.

The 45-year-old former two-time CART champion (1997-8)and Formula 1 racer lost both legs in a horrific accident at Germany’s Lausitzring oval, just a few days after the World Trade Center bombings. CART decided to go on with the show and Zanardi had been showing that his capabilities behind the wheel hadn’t diminished on his return to CART competition. He hadn’t had much of a year but the entire paddock was glad to see him back on form.

Then he made an error coming out of the pits and Alex Tagliani had nowhere to go but into Zanardi’s Reynard. The accident cost Zanardi his legs but never his spirit. He should have died but quick work by CART’s medical corps of Drs Steve Olvey and Terry Trammell helped him live. And live he has, ever since!

It wasn’t long before Zanardi reappeared in sports car racing, working with BMW Motorsport in the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) and winning four races. No surprise then that the first congratulatory message that appeared in my e-box after Zanardi copped gold came from BMW Motorsport and its director Jens Marquardt. “Alex is an outstanding athlete and a perfect example of what can be achieved with dedication and commitment.”

Former BMW teammate Andy Priauix, who won three WTCC championships noted, “It was always something special to drive for BMW alongside Alex. He was a great teammate and a tough opponent on the track. When it became clear he wanted to compete at the Paralympic Games,” Priauix noted, “I knew straight away he would make it. Alex loves challenges like that and regularly pulls off the impossible.”

This isn’t Zanardi’s first championship in hand-cycle competition; he won the 2011 New York City marathon in the class and has been training for these races with his normal intensity ever since. If anyone’s surprised at his success, they don’t know the guy at all!

Former teammate at Target Chip Ganassi and CART 1996 champion Jimmy Vasser, while supporting Zanardi’s quest for Paralympic gold (and he’s got a couple more opportunities to amass even further medals this week), probably made the mistake of offering Zanardi, who’s said he’d love the challenge of driving in the Indianapolis 500, a car if he won a gold medal. Those of us who heard about this offer will hold Vasser to the task. There could be nothing better than cheering on a win at Indy next for Zanardi, forever the “little pineapple.”

By Anne Proffit

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