Tokyo Paralympics: Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Tournament Preview

The US women's wheelchair basketball team won gold at the 2016 Rio Paralympics
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Wheelchair basketball was one of the sports contested at the inaugural Paralympic Games in 1960, though only by men. A women’s tournament was added to the Paralympic program eight years later and has been a staple ever since.

Here are some of the key storylines to watch in the women’s wheelchair basketball tournament at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.


Wheelchair Basketball – Paralympic Tournament Format

A total of 10 women’s teams will compete in wheelchair basketball at the Tokyo Paralympics, divided into two groups:

  • Group A: Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Germany, and Japan
  • Group B: United States, China, Netherlands, Spain, and Algeria

At the end of the round robin portion of the tournament, the top four teams in each group will progress to the quarterfinal round.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Women lead Team USA on day one in Tokyo

Differences between Wheelchair Basketball and Standing Basketball

New to watching wheelchair basketball? Welcome!

While most elements of the game are the same, there are a few differences between standing basketball and wheelchair basketball.

The most notable rule change? Wheelchair basketball doesn’t have a “double dribble” rule. Instead, players must pass or bounce the ball after every two pushes on their wheelchair.

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Understanding the Classification Process

Like every Paralympic sport, athletes in wheelchair basketball are classified. The classification process is intended to make sure that competition is defined by skill and athleticism, rather than an athlete’s degree of disability.

Prior to competition, each player goes through the classification process and receives a value between 1 and 4.5 points. During competition, each team can put five players on the court at a time, but the total sum of classification values can’t exceed 14 points.


Women’s Wheelchair Basketball – Storylines at the Tokyo Paralympics


U.S. women aim for second straight gold medal in wheelchair basketball

The U.S. women’s wheelchair basketball team has won gold at three of the last four Paralympic Games (2004, 2008, 2016).

That said, only three members of the current U.S. roster competed in Rio five years ago. Here’s a look at the U.S. women’s team for Tokyo:

Number Name Sport Class Paralympic Experience
1 Alejandra (Ali) Ibanez 2.5 Paralympic debut
3 Abigail (Abby) Bauleke 1.5 Paralympic debut
4 Zoe Voris 3.5 Paralympic debut
5 Darlene Hunter 1.0 Third Paralympics
7 Josie Aslakson 1.0 Paralympic debut
8 Natalie Schneider (C) 4.5 Fourth Paralympics
15 Rose Hollermann 3.5 Third Paralympics
21 Kaitlyn Eaton 1.5 Paralympic debut
24 Lindsey Zurbrugg 2.5 Paralympic debut
43 Bailey Moody 4.0 Paralympic debut
54 Ixhelt Gonzalez 4.5 Paralympic debut
55 Courtney Ryan 2.0 Paralympic debut

The youngest member of the team, 17-year-old Ixhelt Gonzalez, took full advantage of the one-year postponement of the Games. Before the delay was announced, Gonzalez was one of the final players cut from the U.S. roster last year. “I like to say that Covid-19 gave me a second chance,” she said.

A senior in high school, Gonzalez traveled to Tokyo with a “big packet of homework” as her classes at St. Francis de Sales in Chicago resumed earlier this month.

Natalie Schneider, a mother-of-three and the only four-time Paralympian on the U.S. roster, says the level of competition in women’s wheelchair basketball has “continually increased” throughout her career.

“I keep coming back because I love the game and I love the team,” the 38-year-old said after practice on Sunday. “This team is such a family and it makes me want to be here. It makes me want to give back to the program and lead them with my experience so that USA Basketball continues to be a strong presence.”

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Meet the only mother-daughter duo competing at the Tokyo Paralympics

Netherlands looks to win first ever gold

The Netherlands will be aiming to win its first ever Paralympic gold in women’s wheelchair basketball after claiming back-to-back bronze medals in 2012 and 2016. Both times, it was Germany that knocked the Dutch out in the semifinal round of Paralympic competition.

In 2018, the Netherlands broke through to win the women’s world title. The victory established the team as a favorite heading into Tokyo.

The Dutch are led by Mariska Beijer, who is competing in her third Paralympics this summer. When she isn’t training with the national team, she plays on a mixed gender team in Germany.

Great Britain on track to win first Paralympic medal

Great Britain has never won a medal in women’s wheelchair basketball.

“We want to come here and make history,” Team GB co-captain Madeleine Thompson said after training on Monday.

Thompson, 26, made her Paralympic debut in 2012, but missed the 2016 Rio Games while pregnant with her son Zachary, who was born ahead of the quarterfinal round of that year’s Paralympic tournament.

“He’s seen Mummy play wheelchair basketball pretty much all of his life. He watches me on court and he cheers and he boos when I take my shots,” Thompson said. “He’s my main motivation for me to get a medal. I just want that moment to put it around his neck and tell him I love him.”

Great Britain won its first world medal in 2018, claiming silver after falling to the Netherlands in the final.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC


How to watch the Tokyo Paralympics

NBC will provide over 1,200 hours of Paralympic coverage. Here are some highlights:

  • A full Paralympic TV schedule (which includes an overview of coverage on NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel) can be found here.
  • Events can also be livestreamed on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app. More info is available here.

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.