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A Look back at one of the Unheralded Athletes competing in this year’s Paralympics

November 7th, 2012 · No Comments

Thanxs for letting me indulge upon a story that’s been simmering for awhile - as I’m guessing Y’all are awash in some ‘lil Pigskin right now?



This past August (Aug 29) the 2012 summer Paralympics began in Jolly ‘Ol London - as I personally get more satisfaction out of these athletes triumphs then the highly ballyhooed, much overhyped ‘COMMERCIALYMPICS! Which you’ve probably already discovered if you read my story titled Summer Splendour…



Thus Shame on America’s television networks for not having the ‘Kuhuna’s to give these overly deserving athletes more than five and one-half “canned” hours of Airtime! As I was especially intrigued over how the affable Italian ex-racer Alex Zanardi would do upon his Hand bike, beginning with the Men’s H4 individual 15.5k time trials at Brands Hatch on September 5th. Next, Zanardi contested the H4 individual 64k road race two days later and finally the mixed H1-4 team relay on September 8th.



Thus here is my sentimental favourite selection from some of the world class athletes, who took part in this year’s summer Paralympics, who Y’all probably didn’t hear much about in our pathetic “Fair & Balanced” mainstream media, right?



Since my “Day-job” revolves around scribbling my No Fenders blog (nofenders-dot-net) and being a huge Open Wheel Racing fan instead of ‘RASSCAR. Along with having had the privilege of seeing the effervescent Italian race several times at Portland and Vancouver, BC - obviously I’ve become a huge fan of his ever since that tragic day in 2001. And NO! I’m not talking about that silliness called nine-eleven, but; the horrific accident that occurred four-days later in Germany where Alex Zanardi lost both of his legs and nearly his life!



Zanardi - Ten Years after



Alessandro took up racing go-karts at the relatively late age of thirteen before progressing in Single Seaters to Formula 3000 International


the final step prior to Formula 1, the pinnacle of motorsports in 1991, when he finished runner-up to a descendant of the famous Brazilian surname Fittipaldi; as perhaps you’ve heard of some cat named “EMMO?” As in Emerson Fittipaldi the two time winner of the Indianapolis 500 along with being a double F1 world champion… As ‘Zorro, aka Alex Zanardi finished second in F3000 to that year’s champion Christian Fittipaldi,son of Emerson.



On the strength of his performance in this category, Alessandro was rewarded with three late season drives in Formula 1 with Jordan Grand Prix as the replacement driver for some cat named Michael Schumacher - arguably one of the sports all time greatest, who statistically leads nearly all categories with the exception of most Grand Prix’s contested.



Yet Zanardi spent a pretty dull year in ’92 as a Benetton test driver, albeit racing three times for Minardi, ironically as Christian fittipaldi’s substitute before his big break came when he was hired by Lotus to replace another future star of Formula 1 named Mika Hakkinen for the ’93 season.



Unfortunately Alessandro’s season was cut short by a horrific shunt at Spa-Francorchamps before like many past & present racing drivers fate, Alessandro was replaced in 1994 by Pedro Lamy, a “Pay-driver” who brought a suitcase full of dinero to the cash-strapped Lotus concern.



Failing to succeed in F1, after sitting out a year of racing, Alessandro came stateside in 1996 and promptly set about becoming that year’s Championship auto Racing Teams (CART) rookie of the year for team Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Zanardi also shortened his first name to Alex in hopes to fit-in and become somewhat more “American,” before proceeding to win the next two consecutive IndyCar crowns, again with Chip Ganassi before returning to Europe for another go at Formula One racing - which once again saw the Italian fail to satisfy expectations.



After briefly sitting out the 2000 season, Alex made his return to CART for Mo Nunn Racing which led to his horrific shunt occurring at the Lausitzring, in the former East Germany on September 15, 2001.



This accident involved his leading racecar being sheared in half when uncontrollably spinning into the oncoming path of the hurtling Alex Tagliani who was traveling at over 215 miles-per-hour!



Both of ‘Zorro’s lower legs were completely shattered, along with a pelvis fractured in five places and a lacerated liver; having just read how one of the doctors that would ultimately save his life had slipped on what he believed to be oil when first attending the scene - which actually was Zanardi’s blood, as Alex would lose over 70% of his bodies blood before arriving at the nearby Berlin hospital with less than one liter left! As doctors still do not know how he survived…



Yet the affable Italian wasn’t to be denied, making a full recovery, albeit having had to learn a new way of life before returning to racing in under two years, now fitted with prosthetic legs molded to his custom design, following the amputation of both legs in Germany.



Yet in typical Zanardi fashion, he finished seventh in his debut in the European Touring Car Championship behind the wheel of a specially modified BMW fitted with hand controls. Alex then went on to notch the first of his four wins in touring cars before retiring from this discipline in 2009 - in order to solely focus upon his newest passion, hand-bike cycling with his sated goal of becoming a member of Italy’s 2012 Paralympics squad.



Back in ’07, whilst in New York doing promotional activities for his longtime personal sponsor Barila, Zanardi joked; why not? I’ll compete in the New York Marathon too! And with just a scant four-weeks of training finished a remarkable fourth in class.



Alex has since gone onto win the Venice marathon in 2009, Rome marathon in 2010 and finally won his division of the New York marathon in 2011, along with capturing a silver medal in world Handbiking competition in September, 2011 before being named a member of Italy’s Paralympics squad at the age of 45.



Yet saving the best for last, El Zorro, nee Zanardi was ‘Uber triumphant in his maiden Paralympics foray, as he started off by capturing gold on Day-1 of his three contests - winning in the individual time trials, besting USA’s Oscar Sanchez, a celebrated Hand bike winner.



Two days later, Alex was once again victorious at Brands Hatch in what sounded like an extremely exciting race, having read how it basically boiled down to a drafting duel - which Zanardi used all of his past motor racing knowledge to pull off the win, by drafting past the races leader on the final corner - which was made possible by not only Alex’s devotion to training, but also his custom made carbon fibre hand bike produced by Italy’s Dallara racecar chassis manufacturer.



Then for a nightcap, Alex was part of Italy’s three-person squad in the mixed relay, where they finished runner-up to Team USA, hence garnering Zanardi a most impressive haul of two gold and one silver medals in London.



Reportedly, longtime friend, teammate, competitor and now IndyCar team owner Jimmy Vasser promised Alex he’d give him a racecar for the Indy 500 if he won gold the night before his first event, to which Zanardi cheekidly said he’ll need to give Jimmy a call. Yet don’t expect to see Alex contesting next year’s Indianapolis 500. Although we could see another amputee athlete contest this fabled race some day in the future; as Michael Johnson is currently pursuing his dream of being a racecar driver by contesting the Indy Cars developmental feeder series FF2000.



As for Zanardi, what’s next on his amazing plate of impressive feats? Obviously only the affable Italian knows - as we all hold our breaths in anticipation; Salute Alex!






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