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Racing Legend Wins Gold 15 Years After Losing Legs In Crash

Race car driver Alex Zanardi found a new sport to dominate

Fifteen years ago Thursday, Italian driver Alex Zanardi, among the most popular Indy Car racers of his era, lost both his legs in a crash at EuroSpeedway in Germany. Zanardi, a four-time Champ Car champion, famous for his post-victory doughnuts and pineapple-emblazoned helmet, would never walk again without the aid of prosthetics. He did, however, adopt a new sport: handcycling. In Rio on Tuesday, Zanardi won gold in the H5-level men’s Time Trial.

The victory marked Zanardi’s fourth Paralympic medal, and third gold, after a decorated paracycling debut at the 2012 Games. In London, Zanardi won the H4-class cycling road time trial, as well as the road race.

“I feel very lucky,” Zanardi told BBC after his victory in Wednesday’s race. “I feel my life is a never-ending privilege.”

After taking up handcycling, Zanardi started competing in long-distance races, and has since finished first in the wheelchair divisions of the Venice Marathon, Rome City Marathon, and New York City Marathon. He’s also competed in the Ironman World Championship—using a handbike for the cycling section, and a wheelchair for the running section.

Zanardi followed up Wednesday’s gold with a silver medal on Thursday in the H5-class Road Race, narrowly losing to Russia’s Ernst Van Dyk. Zanardi previously had competed in touring car events in the years after his accident, winning multiple races in a specially modified BMW.

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