Mystery boy from Brazil on fast track to stardom

Antonio Lindback was abandoned as a baby and does not even know his exact age. Yet he has taken the world of speedway by storm
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The Independent Online

The piece of paper attached to the baby said: "Meu nome e Antonio." My name is Antonio. It was the only clue to the identity of a child abandoned in a street in São Paulo, Brazil, 18 years ago, and to this day he is still none the wiser about why he was left there, or his precise age, or who his natural parents are, or even if they are alive.

The piece of paper attached to the baby said: "Meu nome e Antonio." My name is Antonio. It was the only clue to the identity of a child abandoned in a street in São Paulo, Brazil, 18 years ago, and to this day he is still none the wiser about why he was left there, or his precise age, or who his natural parents are, or even if they are alive.

Yesterday, at the speedway track in Poole of all places, no one was in any doubt who that child has become. Antonio Lindback's team, Poole Pirates, completed a historic double Double by winning the Knockout Cup final, speedway's FA Cup. They had already wrapped up this season's Skybet Elite League title, which followed league and cup successes last year.

To win yesterday they overcame a 42-48 first-leg deficit to triumph 99-87 over Ipswich Witches on aggregate. Lindback's contribution was majestic and decisive. He was the only man on either team unbeaten on the day.

Lindback has already been described as having the potential to become one of the greatest riders his sport has known. He is already the first black rider, in 80 years of competitive international competition, to have made the breakthrough to world level.

Some have called him the Tiger Woods of his sport, for his precocity as well as the barriers he is breaking down. Others make comparisons with Wayne Rooney, for his nervelessness and for his pleasure in doing something he loves so naturally, sublimely well.

Lindback's success has not been limited to Pirates' business this year. He has also starred for his adopted country, Sweden, and, perhaps most significantly, took the biggest step of his individual career by qualifying for next season's Grand Prix competition, where the top 16 riders in the world vie for the world title in a nine-race international series.

His journey from being effectively orphaned to having the speedway world at his fingertips has been extraordinary by any standards. As his surname suggests, it has also been circuitous.

"My natural parents couldn't keep me, but I still don't know what really happened," he says, taking up the story. "I was left in São Paulo, then taken to a children's home. For some reason, they thought I was born in Rio de Janeiro but it was never made clear to me. As a child I had a fear of water, of the sea, so maybe they made assumptions.

"They also think that there was sickness in my family, that my mother might have died, but again I'm not certain. I was checked out at a hospital. I was fine.

"They did some checks on my spine to see how old I was. They thought I was about one and a half, but it's a guess. I was given a birthday of 5 May because it seemed easy - it was the beginning of summer. But I don't know if I'm now really 19, or 18, or 20."

Aged around three and a half, Antonio's life changed with the arrival at the children's home of a childless Swedish couple, Ola and Monica Lindback. They had applied to adopt a Brazilian baby, and after six months in South America getting to know Antonio, they took him back to Europe as their son.

Lindback considers Ola and Monica as his mum and dad, no doubt, but one day he hopes he might trace his natural family. "I'd love to find them," he said. "I still want to know a little more. I feel Brazilian. I've grown up in Sweden, but my blood is back there in Brazil."

For all his birth ties, being raised in Sweden led to him taking up Nordic sports ahead of football. "It's fun to play football but it wasn't for me," he said. "I was skiing from the age of four."

Indeed, he became so proficient on the snow that he could have opted to ski professionally, either slalom or freestyle, the latter offering a realistic, top-level career opportunity. But the speedway bug had already bitten following a school trip as a nine-year-old. Monica Lindback, a teacher, took her class to the speedway for a treat and ended up changing her son's life again.

Antonio progressed through the junior ranks in Sweden, and arrived in Dorset last year after a recommendation from his coach to Poole's promoter, Matt Ford.

Lindback's Poole debut was a dramatic as Rooney's first appearance in the red shirt of Manchester United. In seven races on his opening night against Exeter Falcons, he won five times and finished second twice, both times behind team-mates, not opponents.

"Our crowd are used to seeing the world's best," said Gordon Day, the press officer for the Pirates, who have had such luminaries as the five-times world champion, Sweden's Tony Rickardsson, riding for them in recent seasons. "But they were stunned. This unknown turns out to be as good as your best rider. The place was buzzing, and has been since.

"I've been around a long, long time and Antonio's a breath of fresh air," Day adds. "The crowd adore him. He's so exciting to watch. He's young, strong, clever, headstrong at times. He's everything you want a speedway rider to be. He's an out-and-out superstar in the making."

Whether Lindback is still riding with Poole next year remains to be seen. His commitments will be heavy, in the Grand Prix series, and for Sweden, and for his clubs. He rides weekly in Sweden, England and sometimes Poland, too, for different teams, which is normal for the top riders. But he revealed this week that there is a "big possibility" he will opt to ride for Poole for a while yet.

"The fans are the best I've ever met," he said. "They're always there supporting you, win or lose, and I'm glad they feel positive about me.

"And it's fun to hear [tributes] from people. But I need to keep my feet on the ground. I have so much to learn." And in more senses than one, he feels.

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