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U.S. Men’s Goalball Defeated 1-8, Losing To China In The Semis

by Lisa Costantini

John Kusku competes during the men's goalball semifinal at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 29, 2021 in Chiba, Japan. 

 

TOKYO — Thirteen seconds into the men’s goalball semifinal against China on Thursday afternoon, the U.S.’s Calahan Young had scored the opening point. 
Head Coach Keith Young, who took over the program in 2019, said it looked like everything was going according to plan.  
“I thought we had a really good plan,” he said. “We had scouted out China.”
But after the buzzer rang at the end of the second half at Makuhari Messe Hall that would be the only point the U.S. would score. Finishing down 1-8, China’s dominant defense would push the American men into the bronze medal match the following day.
“Going into the game, we had the mindset that if we’re going to go to the gold medal match, we have to literally fight through the Great Wall of China. They gave us their best, and it showed on the scoreboard,” Daryl Walker said.
Despite giving it their all, nothing was getting past the Chinese. By the end of the first half, the U.S. was down 3-1.
“Look, this is a team that won the gold medal in 2008, after being down four goals to Lithuania. They came back. So we knew they were not going to be a pushover,” Walker added. 
China was also the team who beat the American men in Beijing in the semifinal round 4-1. 
History was looking like it was repeating itself.
The six-man team — four of whom were on the silver medal squad in Rio: Walker, Tyler Merren, Matt Simpson and John Kusku — were hoping to finish on top of the podium in Tokyo, something they hadn’t done since 1984. 

 

Team USA talks in a huddle during the men's goalball semifinal at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 29, 2021 in Chiba, Japan. 

 

Even with more medals than any other country, 2016 was the U.S.’s first podium in 12 years.
At 26-years-old and the newest member on the team, Young was still confident in his team’s ability to finish with some hardware after it was all said and done. 
“Tomorrow, we’re going to overcome this bump and bring home the bronze,” promised Young, who has been playing the game for the past 13 years. 
He has quickly become a lead scorer on the team, with 18 goals in the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Sitting in the stands cheering on the men was the U.S. women’s goalball team, who were to play their semifinal match a couple of hours later. 
Young said their presence was encouraging, especially as his girlfriend, Eliana Mason, was among the team in attendance.
“My girlfriend is actually on that team, so to be able to have her here and have the whole women’s team here to cheer us on is a great motivator,” he said. 
After scoring the first point in the game, Young said he was “feeling on top of the world.”
And having the women’s team in attendance made it feel like old times. “It felt like we were at home with fans cheering for us. I appreciate them immensely for coming out here,” he said. “And they have their own semifinal game tonight, so it’s awesome.”
Between the two goalball teams, the U.S. men’s and women have earned a combined 11 Paralympic medals — a number both teams are looking to add to in the next 24 hours. 
“I feel real lousy,” Walker said about how things ended in their second to last game, “but I’m still proud that the team came together strong. At the end of the day, we still keep our heads up high and just focus on the next day — focus on the bronze medal match.”
Coach Young is already working on a new plan. 
“These guys are fighters. And that’s one of the things I like about this team, and I want for the program. From ball drop at the beginning of the game until the very last second, you go. Credit to them,” he said. “Even when we know China had it, the guys kept battling. I promise you; we’ll be ready tomorrow.”
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.


Lisa Costantini is a freelance writer based in Orlando. She has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications, and has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2011.
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