Overtime Comeback Victory Sends Men’s Goalball Team To Semifinals
by Stuart Lieberman
Tyler Merren dives to defend the goal during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 26, 2021 in Tokyo.
Facing a 4-1 deficit in the second half of the U.S. men’s goalball team’s quarterfinal game Tuesday against Ukraine, Calahan Young went to work.
Behind three straight goals from Young, the U.S. forced overtime, where Young scored his fourth straight to send Team USA onto the semifinals at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. Young, a 6-foot-5 native of Pittsburgh whose body covers two of the court’s nine meters in width, has been one of the team’s top performers as it seeks to retake the top of the medal stand.
“We’re a team that’s never going to stop,” Young said. “We are used to overcoming adversity. We’ve had a rocky quad that we’ve always been able to bounce back from and have positive attitudes. That really shows whenever we get down — no matter how far down we are no one stops pushing.”
Two-time Paralympian Matt Simpson of Atlanta had the other score for the U.S., while Rodion Zhyhalin and Vasyl Oliinyk had two scores apiece for Ukraine.
Coached by Keith Young, who overtook the program in 2019, the U.S. will now face China in the semifinals on Thursday. China last won Paralympic gold in 2008 and defeated host nation Japan in its quarterfinal on Tuesday.
“They feel like they’re riding a wave but we’re going to crash their wave,” U.S. player John Kusku said of China, which pulled an upset in its quarterfinal coming fourth place out of Group B.
Expectations remain high for Team USA, which won silver at Rio 2016, its first Paralympic podium finish in 12 years. The U.S. has more men’s goalball Paralympic medals than any other nation, and since 1976 the U.S. men’s and women’s teams have earned a combined 11 Paralympic medals and 11 world championship titles. The U.S. men, however, haven’t struck Paralympic gold since 1984.
The six-player roster in Tokyo includes four players who were on the silver medal squad in Rio: Kusku, Simpson, Tyler Merren and Daryl Walker.
However, it has been Young, the newcomer, who has led the way with 17 goals on 187 throws across five matches thus far.
Young grew up playing team sports and comes from a tall, athletic family — his father is 6-foot-4, his mother is 5-foot-11, his sister is 6-foot and grew up playing AAU travel soccer and his brother is 6-foot-4 and grew up playing AAU travel basketball. Young himself played baseball, basketball and football as child, but retinitis pigmentosa, which causes substantial vision loss, kept him from fully excelling at times. So after being introduced to goalball during a demonstration event for visually impaired kids in middle school, he jumped at the chance to be part of “the coolest sport that nobody has ever heard of.”
“Thirteen years of playing goalball is finally paying off,” Young said. “I’m a first-time Paralympian and now one step closer to bringing home the gold.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo-2020-Paralympic-Games to view the medal table and results.
Stuart Lieberman has covered Paralympic sports for 10 years, including for the International Paralympic Committee at the London 2012, Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.