Today at the Games: He lost his legs in CART crash, now Alex Zanardi goes for cycling gold

He woke in hospital a week later to be told his heart had stopped seven times

Alex Zanardi is lucky to be alive. That may be a suggestion too readily trotted out around the Paralympics, yet how else do you describe a man who has had two car crashes, both of which should have ended his life?

Click HERE to view graphic

This afternoon at Brands Hatch – a venue Zanardi knows well from his motor-racing days – the Italian will make his Paralympic debut as a road cyclist, looking to win a medal in the H4 time trial. The H classification is hand cycling – Zanardi lost his legs in the second accident 11 years ago.

First things first, or rather first accidents first. In 1993, Zanardi was in his third season in Formula One. It had been a stop-start career but he had joined Lotus and registered his first Formula One points with a sixth in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Then came Spa. In practice for the Belgium Grand Prix, Zanardi crashed in an accident that imparted a G-force 18 times higher than a level that usually proves fatal.

It ended his season but no worse; eight years later it was a great deal worse. Having been replaced at Williams by a young Jenson Button, Zanardi had returned to CART racing when he was involved in a collision during a race in Brandenburg. He woke up in hospital a week later to be told his heart had stopped seven times, he had been given the last rites, and he had lost his legs. But he was alive.

Zanardi took up handcycling five years ago and although the 45-year-old will be one of the older racers in Brands Hatch – most of his main competitors are around half his age – he won a silver at the World Championships in Denmark last year. He also won the New York marathon last year and has sought to utilise some of the design technologies used in Formula One in constructing his racing chair.

Britain has two handcyclists in the Games. Rachel Morris will defend the time-trial title she won in Beijing today, while Karen Darke has won two silvers in this year's World Cup. It is a busy opening day for the home cyclists – there are 18 gold medals on offer – as they seek to transfer their successful stay in the Velodrome outdoors.

It is time-trial day, with the main British focus on Sarah Storey. Having won two gold medals in the Velodrome, Storey will seek to cement her status as one of Britain's outstanding Paralympians with two more at Brands Hatch. Her first attempt comes today in the C5 time trial, an event in which she has won the last two World Championships.

Jon-Allan Butterworth, who won two silver medals on the track, has his first road ride in a major event in the men's C5 and Mark Colbourne and Shaun McKeown go in the C1 and C3 respectively. Butterworth's prospects are difficult to judge, in view of his novice status – although, given British Cycling's record in talent spotting and Butterworth's ability, a medal would not be a surprise – and Colbourne and McKeown should make the podium. David Stone, a double gold medallist in Beijing, competes in the T1-2 time trial (T is the tricycle classification) and Lora Turnham, who missed out on a medal on the track, rides with her pilot Fiona Duncan in the B time trial having won World Cup gold.

Brit watch

Wheelchair Rugby

Great Britain will be looking to start their quest for a medal strongly in the mixed competition, although they face a tough first game against the US, the team ranked No 1 in the world, at the Basketball Arena. Britain are ranked fifth in the world in the event.

The match is scheduled to kick off at 2pm, with both remaining group games taking place during the following two days. The gold medal match takes place on Sunday.

Liz Johnson; Swimming

After winning the 100m breaststroke SB6 gold in Beijing under tough personal circumstances, Johnson will attempt to retain her title at 7.31pm, but the heats take place first today at 11.12am.

The 26-year-old will be challenged by her fellow Briton, Charlotte Henshaw, who will be hoping to make it a British one-two. In her favoured event, Johnson will hope to improve on her sixth-place finish in the 200m individual medley SM6.

Louise Watkin; Swimming

The 20-year-old, who was born in Stockholm, Sweden, but represents Great Britain after moving to the country in 1996, will be up against some fierce competition in the 50m women's freestyle final tonight at 8.30pm.

If she can progress from the morning's heats (11.40am), she will have to beat the imperious South African Natalie Du Toit, who has powered to victory in the event in the last two Paralympic Games, to claim gold at the Aquatics Centre.

Katrina Hart; Athletics

The 22-year-old is scheduled to run in the T37 200m heats at 10.49am and, should she qualify, is one of the favourites to win the final at 8.42pm.

Hart, who won the 200m event at the 2011 World Championships but finished sixth in the T37 100m final on Sunday, is stronger over the longer distance. Her main challenger for a first Paralympic gold medal comes from Germany's Maria Seifert, who will look to upgrade the two bronzes she won in 2008.

James Willis

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam