LONDON (AP) — He may have won gold and provided one of the lasting images of the games, but the end of the London Paralympics will be bittersweet for Alex Zanardi.
The former Formula One driver, who lost his legs in a horrific race car crash in 2001, became a champion on the road again this week. He was competing in handcycling, a sport in which the bike is powered by the arms.
But it's not the feeling of winning the 45-year-old Italian will miss the most — it's those countless hours of hard work and meticulous planning that got him there.
"I'm certainly very, very happy but this moment also brings a little bit of sadness because this weekend is going to be the end of a great adventure I've been fortunate enough to live," Zanardi said outside the boisterous sponsor party to celebrate his first win.
While the party roared on in another room, he reflected on what it all would mean come Monday, when the games were over.
"You know, when you are in your 20s, you always believe that the race, that the championship is the only thing that matters," he said. "But then 20 years later, you say 'Ooohhh, I remember when I was there with my mechanics, with my engineer, talking about the car, going out for a pizza, going to the team and (fixing) my seat and (spending) time with them.
"So you realize what really (matters) was the effort that you put in daily in order to build something special. Because when the championship arrives, you cannot expect to meet happiness that day, otherwise you don't get there. It's the process."
That doesn't mean the driver, who admits he has "a little bit of a big head, hasn't loved every second of the actual games as well.
Zanardi added a second individual gold in the road race Friday, but it was his first that will be most widely remembered.
In one of the more enduring images of the 2012 London Paralympics, he slid out of his cycle after winning Wednesday's time trial, sat on the track and, with one hand, hoisted his bike in the air. It seemed weightless compared to the effort it took to get to that track in the first place.