Why Alex Zanardi should win BBC Overseas Sports Personality Of The Year

Rebecca Thomas 8 November 2012

Yahoo have launched a campaign to see the Italian gold medallist Paralympian Alex Zanardi win BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year. Following the recent disgrace of ex-BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year Lance Armstrong, critics will undoubtedly be watching Britain’s decision with narrowed eyes, and the ‘expert panel’ will certainly feel the pressure to pick the right name. They aren’t short of options. With enough heroic scenes at the Olympics and Paralympics to keep the BBC ticking over with footage for the next four years, the shortlist is likely to be anything but short.

What is interesting about the Yahoo campaign is that it tries to focus on the ‘personality’ in the BBC Sports ‘Personality’ competition. With Britain’s Andy Murray a front-runner for the British Sports Personality award, this connection doesn’t appear to be as obvious as you’d think. They cite Zanardi’s two gold medals but what sparkles for them is his attitude towards sport and the striking example set to all others. Forget Armstrong, bullying and mass cheating. Yahoo wants to honour a very different hero.

The Italian Alessandro Zanardi was originally a Formula One racer, completing 44 such races. However, during a race at Germany’s Lausitzring in 2001 his life was changed forever when he lost control and spun into the path of Patrick Charpentier, who smashed into the helpless car with destructive consequences. Zanardi lost both legs and three-quarters of the blood in his body. Doctors did however manage to save his life. Astonishingly, Zanardi bounced back and was determined to salvage something from his sporting career. He initially intended to get back into motor-sport, designing and constructing his own customised prosthetic legs. However, having taken up cycling as part of his fitness regime, he discovered a talent and passion for the sport, finishing fourth in the 2007 New York marathon with minimal training.

The highlight of his career has been winning two gold medals at the London 2012 Paralympics. His first medal was in the H4 handcycle time trial, completing the 16km course in 24 minutes 50.22 seconds. Two days later he won the 48km road race, then helped Italy to scoop the silver medal in the team relay.

What has really captured the hearts of the public however is the revelation of who the person behind the legend actually is. His display at the Venice Marathon elevated him from a Paralympic great to a global hero. He towed seventeen-year-old Eric Fontanari using rope from a rubbish bin on the side of the course and proceeded to fix the youngster’s gearing problem with gaffa tape. In emotional scenes that seemed as though they’d come from a Hollywood film, he pushed his companion, who was suffering from muscle spasms, across the finish line so that he could finish before him.

Yahoo have launched a twitter campaign ahead of the presentation of the awards by a panel of experts on Sunday 16 December. With athletes such as Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt other clear front-runners, the competition promises to be a fierce one.

Rebecca Thomas