The U.S. women’s goalball team clinched a spot in the semifinal round of the Tokyo Paralympics thanks to a 5-3 win against the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) on Wednesday.
The U.S. trailed 2-3 at halftime, but was buoyed by second half goals from Amanda Dennis and Eliana Mason. (Watch a highlight of the win here.)
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“I’m just so, so proud of everybody at this moment. This is what we’ve been training for,” Mason – who scored three goals – told the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes. “You just have to have confidence and faith and trust. We were down 3-2 at halftime and we weren’t panicking.”
If you’re new to the sport of goalball, here are some key storylines to know ahead of the U.S. team’s semifinal against Brazil (Thursday, September 2, at 6:30am ET in the United States, 7:30pm in Japan).
What exactly is goalball?
Goalball, a sport for athletes who are visually impaired, is one of two Paralympic sports without an Olympic counterpart (the other is boccia).
According to the International Paralympic Committee, athletes who compete internationally must be legally blind (meaning they have less than 10 percent vision). All players compete wearing eyeshades to ensure an even playing field.
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Goalball is played using a ball with bells so that players can track its position by sound. Athletes score by throwing the ball into the opposing team’s goal. Games last 24 minutes (two 12-minute halves) or until one team has accumulated a 10-goal margin.
The court – which measures 18 meters long and 9 meters wide – has string taped to it so that players can orient themselves by touch.
U.S. women’s goalball team defined by Paralympic experience
The U.S. women are the most decorated team in goalball history, having claimed six Paralympic and eight world championship medals in the sport. And U.S. roster for Tokyo has plenty of experience:
U.S. women’s goalball roster – Tokyo Paralympics:
- Amanda Dennis (Peachtree City, Georgia) – third Paralympic appearance
- Asya Miller (Portland, Oregon) – sixth Paralympic appearance
- Eliana Mason (Beaverton, Oregon) – second Paralympic appeance
- Lisa Czechowski (Boonton, New Jersey) – sixth Paralympic appearance
- Marybai Huking (Salt Lake City, Utah) – second Paralympic appearance
- Mindy Cook (Celina, Ohio) – Paralympic debut
Of the six players, only one – Mindy Cook – is a Paralympic rookie, while Asya Miller and Lisa Czechowski are both making their sixth Paralympic appearance (fifth in goalball).
What’s at stake in Tokyo?
Five years ago in Rio, the U.S. women lost to Turkey 11-1 in the semifinal round. While the American team rebounded to win bronze, that semifinal loss motivated the team heading into Tokyo.
“Ever since that moment, we’ve been so focused on that not happening again,” Miller told Olympic Information Service.
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Earlier this week, the U.S. got a small bit of redemption against Turkey, beating the defending Paralympic champs 4-3 in group play.
With a 10-6 win over Australia, Turkey is also through to the semifinal round.
Women’s Goalball – Semifinal Round Games:
- Semifinal #1: Turkey vs. Japan (Thursday, September 2, at 2am ET in the United States, 3pm in Japan)
- Semifinal #2: United States vs. Brazil (Thursday, September 2, at 6:30am ET in the United States, 7:30pm in Japan)
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: