Day of victory at the Paralympic road cycling at Brands Hatch
PUBLISHED: 13:56 06 September 2012
As each athlete powered down the home straight the sidelines were deep with spectators cheering and clapping the extraordinary and inspirational talent.
It was an intimate experience at Brands Hatch for the first day of the Paralympic road cycling, which began on Wednesday (5).
Standing 100 metres before the finish line you could see the sheer determination on the cyclists’ faces as they pulled all their energy into making a winning time.
On the opposite site of the finish their exhaustion was palpable as many sank to the floor, breathless and emotional.
All eyes were on the charismatic Alex Zanardi whose elation after winning gold was infectious.
The 45-year-old former Formula One driver lost his legs and almost his life in a crash 11 years ago.
After finishing he sat looking over his shoulder at the board waiting to hear whether he had achieved the gold medal goal he set himself just five years ago.
Rewarded for his efforts, Zanardi jumped out of his bike and used one hand to lift it into the air in victory.
Zanardi’s journey is one of the many astounding comeback tales of the Paralympic Games.
Also racing that day was Gaysli Leon who lost his wife and eight children in the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Leon, who was left paralysed from the waist down, may have finished 20 minutes behind his competitors but the cheers he received were worthy of a winner.
He is the first hand-cyclist from the poverty-stricken country to compete at international level and is only one of three Haitian athletes competing at the Paralympics.
Friends and families of the international sports stars were dotted throughout the crowd.
A German woman sobbed “My man, he came third!” as she embraced her friend.
When Brit David Stone went up to collect his bronze medal in the tricycle event, a family friend of his uttered “I knew him when he was a baby and they said he would never walk”.
Another big British win was Sarah Storey who whipped the crowds into frenzy with her tenth Paralympic gold.
The 34-year-old sealed her win with a kiss from her husband Barney, a fellow cyclist.
Ten time-trial events throughout the day meant that the several-thousand-strong audience was able to experience a range of Paralympic road cycling, from hand cycles to tandems to bicycles and tricycles.
Each event was an incredible display of athleticism. The final one of the day – the tricycle time trial - was particularly awe-inspiring as the cyclists hurtled down the track on three wheels, taking corners that no tricycle was ever built for.
The use of Brands Hatch for the Paralympics has taken the track back to its cycling roots.
In the 1920s a group of Gravesend cyclists used the dirt of Brands farm to forge what would become one of the world’s most famous car racing circuits.
Almost one hundred years later the first London Paralympics Games has made its way to Kent and made history within the iconic grounds.
Ken McKenzie, 60, Sundridge
We got quite close up and were lucky enough to see the awards ceremony. There were lots of members of athletes’ families there. That was special as you could see the expressions on people’s faces and see how much it meant to them. We saw Sarah Storey jump up to her husband and give him a kiss which the photographers loved.
Jaspal Thandi, 22, Dartford
I’ve just graduated this summer and took a few days off my new job to volunteer for the Paralympics. I thought it would be a cool thing to do, a once in a lifetime experience. I’m into sport, I like watching it. I’ve never watched the Paralympic cycling before, it’s really good.
Carolyn Tripp, 40, Australia
My brother has just raced in the H4 against Alex Zanardi He didn’t get placed but it’s his first Olympics. He has done really well to get here. He had an accident 18 years ago and had one leg amputated. It’s amazing to see all the athletes here.
Jetze Plat, 21, Netherlands
I came eighth today which wasn’t great. Hopefully I’ll do better on Friday. I have been hand cycling for seven years but it’s my first Paralympics. It’s really brilliant. The atmosphere is great.