Afghanistan veteran Jaco Van Gass wins Paralympic gold for Great Britain

Afghanistan veteran Jaco Van Gass applied military precision on his Paralympic debut, smashing the C3 3,000m individual pursuit world record en route to romping to gold in Tokyo.

With the Taliban takeover of Kabul dominating news headlines, the heroic Van Gass offers a stark reminder of the devastation years of political instability have caused in that country.

The South African-born cyclist suffered life-changing injuries when he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2009 while serving with the Parachute Regiment.

He lost his left arm at the elbow, as well as suffering a collapsed lung, shrapnel wounds, punctured internal organs, a broken tibia and a fractured knee, requiring 11 operations and intense rehabilitation.

Inspired by London 2012 as he adjusted to life outside the army, the 35-year-old has rebuilt his life as an elite athlete and completed an extraordinary journey by getting the better of compatriot Fin Graham in the Izu Velodrome on Thursday.

The medal race followed a remarkable qualifying session in which Van Gass clocked three minutes, 17.593 seconds – more than nine seconds inside the world record posted by Russian Alexey Obydennov in April 2014.

Silver medallist Graham had himself initially – and very briefly – usurped Obydenno with 3min 19.780, having raced in an earlier heat than Van Gass.

Ultimately upstaged in the opening 7.5 laps, the 21-year-old Scotsman was unable to close the gap in the decider.

He crossed the finish line just over a second after his rival, who won with a time of 3:20.987 – considerably slower than the qualifying pace.

Van Gass is certainly no stranger to challenges and adversity.

Jaco van Gass, left, celebrates with Invictus Games founder Prince Harry, centre, at the 2016 event
Jaco van Gass, left, celebrates with Invictus Games founder Prince Harry, centre, at the 2016 event (Chris Jackson/PA)

In addition to his achievements on two wheels, he recovered from the devastating impact of war to trek to the North Pole – an expedition joined by the Duke of Sussex – run multiple marathons and conquer mountains across the globe.

His opening event – admittedly his favoured one – is the first of five events he will contest in the Japanese capital.

Further medals could arrive over the coming days in the C1-3 kilo, C3 time trial, C1-3 road race and C1-5 mixed team sprint.