His time of 19 minutes, 23.8 seconds topped the 99-strong field. Denis Irodov (RUS) took silver with 19:36.4 and Vegard Thon (NOR) completed the podium with a 19:42.3 effort.
With the biathlon competition dominated by the Russians and French so far, even Zawol himself found the result hard to believe.
“This is very amazing. By far my biggest international win,” he said at the Les Tuffes Nordic Centre. “I didn’t know what to feel when I crossed the finish line. It was incredible.”
The 17-year-old was 11th in the 12.5km individual and 13th in the single mixed relay, both held over the weekend.
He opened with a clean round of shooting in the prone position, and came close to posting a second clean round of shooting in the standing position. But despite one 150m penalty loop, his skis carried him swiftly to the finish.
“I did very well on the first lap but on my standing I missed my last shot, but I recovered with a very fast last lap,” Zawol said.
For Russia’s Irodov, being one of the last biathletes to flag off – he was the 91st to start – was a test of his focus.
“I had to wait until the end and while waiting I saw all my teammates make mistakes,” Irodov said. “It was hard to watch and be prepared and start knowing how others have competed.
“But I’m happy with the result,” he said. “It’s the best result that I’ve ever gotten in my life. Previously when I competed in Russia in sprint, I might make the top six but not the top three. This is a miracle.”
Teammate Oleg Domichek, champion in the individual event, was the next-placed Russian biathlete, finishing 30th.
For bronze medallist Thon, strong winds made for tricky conditions. “It was tough but I heard during the last lap that the podium was possible, so I pushed,” the Norwegian said.
“I’m really happy about my race. Good, clean shooting in the prone and one missed at the standing, so it was quite fantastic.”
Campbell Wright (NZL) finished fourth, missing out on a medal by about three seconds, but can take heart in a lung-bursting effort that had him lying prone at the finish line for a few minutes.
“My legs were pretty popped at that stage,” the 17-year-old said. “So I thought, time for a lie-down, cheeky nap, get a bit of a recovery before I get the skis off. I was pretty wrecked.
“Normally before races I fret out big-time, wake up in the night in cold sweat, nervous, bit of an emotional train wreck generally. But for the biggest race of my life, I’ve been relaxed, chilled, just in a really good head space.
“Biathlon in NZL is pretty much just me, so I think it’ll be good to get some bros into the sport and hopefully we can actually have a team and I don’t need to tag along with the Australians the whole time.”