Parachute Regiment veteran Van Gass caps remarkable, record-breaking Paralympic recovery tale at Tokyo 2020

·3-min read
Van Gass, 35, stormed to a searing world record to cap an emotional turnaround in Tokyo
Van Gass, 35, stormed to a searing world record to cap an emotional turnaround in Tokyo

By Tom Harle in Tokyo

Paralympic champion Jaco Van Gass never gave up on his country in Afghanistan - but it might have just given up on him.

In 2009, serving as a Paratrooper in Afghanistan, he was hit by a rocket propelled grenade, losing his left arm and surviving only after 11 operations.

As the Taliban swarm the streets of Kabul with British troops withdrawn, Van Gass was scorching to a track cycling world record and gold, refusing to throw in the towel in his own personal battle.

“I've kept myself a bit out of the media,” said Van Gass. “Yes, it's sad to see what's going on.

“Personally, I'm not disappointed and I don’t regret what happened to me in the personal matter. I had to go out and do my job.

“My thoughts go out to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and I think I'll just leave it there.”

Since his injury Van Gass has become a first-class downhill skier, run marathons and trekked to the North Pole with a record-breaking team of wounded soldiers, accompanied by Prince Harry.

He was recovering at the time of London 2012, which lit the flame of Paralympic ambition. The South African-born star missed out on Rio but won three world titles in 2019.

Van Gass smashed the oldest world record in para-cycling in his first-ever race at the Games, clocking an amazing 3:17.593, and beat fellow Brit Finlay Graham to C3 3000m pursuit gold.

“At this very moment in time, this is right at the top. It's the best thing I’ve done,” said Van Gass, who beat Graham by 1.13 seconds in the final.

“It's hard to really put that into perspective, I need it to sink in a little bit as well. I have done some amazing stuff and they all have their difficulties and today was very tough.

“All the praise to little Finn. To be honest, the 3:19 was my aim and then he rode it, so I had to recalculate and go faster! He pushed me really hard in the final.”

Van Gass’s Tokyo schedule is a little like a military operation - he will go for gold twice more on the track and twice on the road.

There were mixed emotions for Jody Cundy, who became the first British male to win a medal at seven Games but saw a nine-year unbeaten record disappear in the process.

The 42-year-old’s last loss over 1km came at London 2012, when a malfunction on the starting blocks denied the Brit his golden chance.

Alfonso Cabello Llamas won gold that day and Cundy was denied victory by brilliance alone in Tokyo, with the Spaniard setting a new world record in the C5 class of 1:01.577.

"I've done a fabulous time and literally been beaten by the better person,” said Cundy, who - along with Van Gass - is able to train full-time and benefit from world class facilities, technology, coaching and support teams thanks to National Lottery funding.

“I can't ask any more of myself, I've done everything I can to get where I am. It's the best performance I've ever done, and sadly it wasn't quite enough.”

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