Gold medals, record breaking performances and actions of
super-human ability were just some of the highlights when the
Paralympic Games visited Brands Hatch for four days in
Less than four weeks after the closing ceremony for the Olympic
Games, engine power at Brands Hatch was temporarily replaced by
pedals and cranks as the spirit of London 2012 descended on the
Kent circuit for the Paralympic Games Road Cycling events on 5-7
Spectators were able to get within a few feet of the athletes
competing during the event with the kaleidoscopic London 2012
artwork providing a stunning backdrop to a unique showcase of
sporting talent. A multitude of standout performances, not to
mention the stunning blue skies and scorching temperatures, all
helped provide an atmosphere different to any other seen
at Brands Hatch before. One national journalist even proclaimed
Brands Hatch as a contender for "venue of London 2012."
It didn't take long for history to be made, with an intense
first day of competition (Wednesday) that decided no less than 18
gold medals, and provided two huge talking points. The first being
British competitor Sarah Storey
claiming her third gold medal of the games, having
already secured two in the Velodrome, which left her one gold short
of equalling the British Paralympic record. Storey dominated her C5
Individual Time Trial to finish over a minute and a half clear of
her nearest competitors, a feat made even more remarkable when it
was revealed afterwards that her earpiece had broken, meaning she
was having to pedal flat out unaware of her position in the
classifications relative to other riders.
There was more British success as well, with Mark Colbourne
claiming silver in the Men's Individual Time Trial, Karen Darke
also securing silver in her category and a bronze for David
Stone in the Mixed Time Trial.
Then later that day, former F1 driver
Alex Zanardi claimed the first of what turned out to be two gold
medals with a stunning performance in the Men's H4 Time
Trial. After competing his two laps of the course, Zanardi remained
on the circuit with his trainer and watched his fellow competitors
cross the line one by one. When it became obvious he had claimed
gold he squeezed himself out of his bespoke handcycle and
one-handed, raised it aloft to the crowd, with a grin of sheer
ecstasy on his face. There was more to come from the great Italian
two days later...
Thursday saw a record breaking performance from Sarah Storey,
who equalled the British Paralympic gold medal tally of
11 held by Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson and Dave Roberts by pulverising
her opponents in the Women's Individual C4-5 road race. Storey
claimed the win by over seven minutes, even overtaking the men's
road race which started several minutes before, with the
Princess Royal watching on. Such heroics ensured Storey
secured a nomination for last Sunday's BBC Sports Personality of
the Year Award.
But it was perhaps the Friday that will be most fondly
remembered by those who were there, with Alex Zanardi putting in a
breathtaking performance in the Mens' handcycle road race to claim
second gold medal in three days. Having raced with the
lead peloton throughout the 64km race, seemingly without breaking
sweat, Zanardi made his move with 300 metres remaining. Taking a
tight inside line in the final corner, the Italian powered his way
to the front of the group, and roared on by a vociferous crowd on
the start/finish straight edged out his nearest competitor by just
one second after two hours of competition.
With no British rider for the spectators to cheer on,
Zanardi was very much the focus of the crowd's attention, with many
aware of his previous exploits as a racing driver and the aptness
of his journey going full circle by winning at Brands Hatch.
Zanardi squeezed out his seat and kissed the tarmac in celebration
before again lifting his bike single-handedly into the air, the
fading late summer light adding an almost perfect golden hue to one
of the shining moments in the whole games. Then came a rousing
rendition of the Italian national anthem on the podium, and finally
an impromptu rendition of 'Happy Birthday' for Zanardi's son
Niccolo, with the gathered masses around the podium only
too happy to join in!
Earlier in the day there had been more success for Great
with Rachel Morris claiming a bronze medal in her handcycle road
race. In an attempt to share the medal with
countrywoman Karen Darke, the pair crossed the line hand in hand,
but it was Morris who was awarded the medal by virtue of crossing
the line just marginally ahead. It was a fitting reward for Morris,
who had been injured just weeks prior to the games, leaving her
participation in some doubt.
Then almost too quickly the final day arrived, but not without
more success for Great Britain, and more for Zanardi also, this
time as part of a team.
successfully defended his Mixed Road Race crown he
claimed in Beijing 2008 by securing the win at Brands Hatch, making
up somewhat from his bronze medal disappointment earlier in the
week during the Time Trial.
And then as a grand finale, a
somewhat chaotic but thoroughly entertaining handcycle Team
Relay was held, which saw Zanardi and Italian colleagues
Francesca Fenocchio and Vittorio Podesta claim a silver medal
behind the USA team.
Four days of world class sporting action, 32 gold medals
awarded, over 200 athletes from 42 nations, an unbeatable
atmosphere. Oh and the sun shined too! It was quite simply an
inspiring four days.
To recap fully on the Paralympics at Brands Hatch click here
to view the minisite.
Images by Richard Randle