But rewind the clock back 12 years, to August, 2009 and Van Gass was fighting for his life. He had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) while serving in Afghanistan, losing his lower left arm, puncturing internal organs, and suffering a collapsed lung, shrapnel and blast wounds, and leg fractures.
So his statement that his C3 3,000m individual pursuit is the best thing he’s done can be taken at face value. An astounding achievement.
Yet Van Gass’ list of astounding achievements are lengthy. But this, a Paralympic Gold, was what he wanted more than anything. “I have done some amazing stuff and they all have their difficulties. Today was very tough. This is definitely up there,” the 35-year-old said.
Born in South Africa, the 20-year-old Van Gass sold all of his possessions and moved to the UK to enlist in the British Army.
He signed up to become a paratrooper and was one of only 22 – of the 108 who started – to pass P Company. In 2008, he completed his first tour to Afghanistan before returning a year later. Two weeks before the end of that tour, Van Gass’ platoon was deployed on one of their last operations on the eve of the Afghanistan elections.
“We got intelligence that an IED (improvised explosive device) facilitator was planning to disrupt the elections,” Van Gass explained.
“We went after this guy and caught him, the potential suicide bombers and their equipment.
“On the way back into the desert where the helicopter was to pick us up, a call came over the radio that the pilot wasn’t happy with the landing site and so he gave us coordinates for a new pick-up point. The first pick-up point was a proven route but the second one wasn’t.”
As part of a two-man sniper team, Van Gass was carrying a set of telescopic ladders attached to his backpack. Everything was happening under the cover of darkness. The clock had ticked past midnight, it was now his 23rd birthday.
“About half an hour into the walk, we came across what was only later established as a Taliban stronghold. We saw a few guys patrolling, we confronted them and conducted some searches but a few shots were fired from a different firing point.”
“This initiated quite a big fire fight, and about 40-45 minutes in, two RPGs were fired. The first one exploded in the distance but the second one was fired low and ricocheted off the ground.”
“At this stage, I was covering my sniper partner and while he was putting on a fresh magazine, this rocket hit me.”
“As I twisted my back, the rocket hit [the ladders] and that initiated the explosion. I knew I had lost my arm. I was in a pretty bad way.”
Van Gass was flown home to the UK, where extensive rehabilitation followed. In total, he had 11 operations on his injuries. (BBC)