U.S. Goalball Teams Aim To Recapture Gold In Tokyo
by Todd Kortemeier
Tyler Merren competes at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 on Sep 16, 2016 in Rio.
The Paralympic Games Rio 2016 saw a return to the medal stand for both the U.S. men’s and women’s goalball teams, but the mission for Tokyo is clear: get back to the top step of that podium.
The U.S. women won bronze in Rio while the U.S. men won silver, the 10th and 11th medals in U.S. history, most of any nation. But it’s been since 2008 that a U.S. team won a gold medal, when the women’s team triumphed in Beijing. Winning double gold in Tokyo won’t be easy. No country has done it since 1984, but that was Team USA. And the U.S. was the only country in Rio to medal in both men’s and women’s goalball. Here’s a closer look at the men’s and women’s teams and how their gold-medal prospects are looking for Tokyo.
The silver medal the U.S. men won in Rio represented their best performance at the Paralympic Games since 1988, but it was even more significant than that. The men missed out on the Games entirely in 2012, the first time they’ve missed the Paralympic tournament since the debut of the sport in 1976. The Rio medal was the fifth in program history, but it’s been since 1984 that the men brought home gold.
The six-player roster the U.S. will bring to Tokyo includes four players who were on the silver-medal squad in Rio: John Kusku, Tyler Merren, Matt Simpson and Daryl Walker. Merren brings the most experience to the team competing at his fourth Games. A bronze medalist from Athens in 2004, Merren is the only member of the team with two Paralympic medals. Walker is playing in his third Paralympic tournament. The four returners will join first-time Paralympians Zach Buhler and Calahan Young.
The U.S. men can be encouraged by their recent results, having topped Rio gold medalists Lithuania in the final of the Trakai Tournament in May.
“After the USA Men’s Goalball Team’s performance and victory at the Trakai Games, I’m fully confident that the six athletes selected for the Tokyo Paralympic Games will represent our nation well,” U.S. head coach Keith Young said after the announcement of the team in June.
Lithuania and Brazil, bronze medalists in Rio, are two of the top teams in the world and will be among the biggest challengers to the U.S. men. Brazil is the reigning world champions from the most recent tournament in 2018, where Lithuania placed fourth. The rest of the field in Tokyo includes Algeria, Belgium, China, Germany, Japan, Turkey and Ukraine.
Asya Miller competes at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 on Sep 16, 2016 in Rio.
The eighth-place finish suffered by the U.S. women in London was the first time they’ve failed to medal in a Paralympic tournament at which they’ve competed. They bounced back in Rio with a bronze medal, the sixth in program history. The U.S. won gold in the debut of women’s goalball in 1984, and also reached the top of the podium in 2008.
The U.S. roster includes two women who remember that triumph very well. Lisa Czechowski and Asya Miller have been teammates on the goalball team for the last five Paralympic Games. They won a silver medal in 2004, gold in 2008 and bronze in 2016. But that’s not all. Both athletes competed in discus at the 2000 Sydney Games, making Tokyo their sixth Games overall.
Czechowski and Miller are two of the five returnees from Rio, where Amanda Dennis was competing in her second Games and Marybai Huking and Eliana Mason were first timers. This time around, Mindy Cook is the lone member of the team making her Paralympic debut. The U.S. women also competed in the Trakai Tournament in Lithuania, placing second.
“Choosing the final roster for an event as prestigious as the Paralympic Games is never easy,” said Jake Czechowski, U.S. head coach and Lisa’s husband. “The depth of our player pool made this year’s selection especially difficult. We have great veteran leadership and experience with a combined 14 Paralympic teams. I expect our team to be ready for all the challenges and excitement that the Paralympics provides.”
Turkey, runners-up at the 2018 world championships and Rio gold medalists, will be one of the favorites in Tokyo alongside 2018 world champion Russia. China also boasts a strong program, having won a silver medal in each of the last three Paralympic Games. The rest of the field in Tokyo includes Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Israel and Japan.
Goalball action begins Aug. 25 with men’s and women’s games each day. After a preliminary round, quarterfinals begin Aug. 31 and narrow down to bronze- and gold-medal games on Sept. 3. Live coverage will be available on NBCSN