Who is Jaco Van Gass? The war veteran who reached the North Pole and Tokyo Paralympics podium

From Afghanistan to the North Pole Jaco Van Gass has plumbed the depths and scaled the heights of human emotion.

War veteran Van Gass can now add Paralympic cycling gold to an extraordinary life story that was shaped by horrific events in Afghanistan in 2009.

The 35-year-old was on his second tour of the country with the British Army’s Parachute Regiment when he suffered life-changing injuries.

With just two weeks left of a five-and-a-half-month mission, Van Gass and his platoon were engaged by enemy forces.

After an intense 45-minute firefight, Van Gass was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and lost his left arm at the elbow.


Van Gass also suffered a collapsed lung, shrapnel wounds, punctured internal organs, a broken tibia and a fractured knee, requiring 11 operations and intense rehabilitation.

It was the end of a military career which Van Gass had left his South Africa home to pursue at the age of 20.

But, as the physical injuries and mental trauma slowly eased, it was the start of an exceptional chapter of global adventure and sporting success.

Van Gass became a first-class downhill skier and multiple marathon runner.

He completed the New York Marathon and the Safaricom Half Marathon in Kenya – recognised as one of the toughest in the world – and climbed Alaska’s 20,000-feet Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America.

Van Gass narrowly failed to reach the summit of Mount Everest due to poor weather conditions.

But he was successful as he joined Prince Harry and a record-breaking team of wounded soldiers that trekked unsupported to the North Pole.

His journey towards a Paralympic debut began when he was settling back into civilian life amid the 2012 London Games.

Cycling was the sport he settled on and he quickly became a member of the GB Para-cycling team, competing at the World Championships in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Van Gass became a national champion on the road and took bronze at the 2018 Para-cycling Track World Championships.

He could finally call himself a Paralympian 12 years after Afghanistan changed his life.

Van Gass smashed the long-standing C3 3,000m individual pursuit world record before storming to gold – and it may not be the last time he is on the podium in Tokyo.

He still has the C1-3 kilo, C3 time trial, C1-3 road race and C1-5 mixed team sprint events to come and the chance of adding further Olympic medals to a quite remarkable CV.

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