A win in the final moments of a wheelchair rugby match means Team USA will move on to the semifinals. Preliminary games in goalball, sitting volleyball and archery along with team wheelchair fencing bouts were also part of the third day of competitions for athletes connected to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
In a tense game of wheelchair rugby that was won in the last minute, Team USA pulled out a 50-48 win over Great Britain in their third game of Group B pool play on Friday, Aug. 27. USA trailed Great Britain at the end of three of the four eight-minute quarters.
USA’s Josh Wheeler, 41, scored 17 tries, including the last one of the game, and he played for nearly 30 minutes, including a trip to the penalty box. This is the second Paralympics for the Arizona resident who broke his neck in a motorcycle accident 15 years ago that caused him to lose function in his lower body. He was part of the team that won silver in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The eight mixed wheelchair rugby teams, which can include men and women, are divided into two pools and each team plays the other three teams in the pool. Team USA is 3-0 in Group B with Great Britain (2-1), Canada (1-2) and New Zealand (0-3), and the top two teams from each pool move on to the medal matches. Team USA faces Australia in the semifinals on Saturday, Aug. 28.
Wheelchair rugby combines elements of football (throwing the ball and getting the ball in the goal area), basketball (dribbling the ball) and hockey (penalty boxes and crashing into each other). Wheeler’s classification is a 2.5, with 3.5 the highest mobility, and teams are allowed four players with a total of up to 8 on the court.
Canada’s sitting volleyball team, including attacker Payden Vair, lost 3-2 to Brazil in a preliminary round on Friday, Aug. 27. Canada won the first set 21-25, lost the next two 26-24 and 25-20, and won the fourth 29-27. It lost the fifth set 17-15. Vair played in the third and fourth sets.
Sitting volleyball is similar to indoor volleyball and has a lower net (just higher than a meter, or about 41 inches, for women) and a slightly smaller court.
Vair, 22, of Alberta, was a collegiate soccer player and was introduced to sitting volleyball following a lawn mower accident that resulted in the amputation of her right leg below her knee.
The eight women’s sitting volleyball teams are divided into two pools and each team plays the other three teams in the pool. Canada is in Pool A with Italy (1-0), Brazil (1-0) and Japan (0-1). The top two teams from each pool move to the semifinals.
Canada’s next match is against Italy on Sunday, Aug. 29.
USA’s Daryl Walker scored the only goal in USA’s 11-1 loss to Japan on Friday, Aug. 27, in a preliminary round. The game ended early as Japan was 10 points ahead.
Walker, who hails from Florida and trains in Indiana, has albinoism that affects his eyesight and is legally blind. He was part of the team that won silver in 2016 in Rio.
Goalball, a game designed for the visually challenged, is played on a court about the size of a volleyball court with textured lines and a ball that’s about the size of a basketball with bells in it. Each team is allowed three players on the court and all players wear darkened visors to equalize visual ability as they defend their goal that is 9 meters, or 9.8 yards, long and 1.3 meters, or 1.4 years, high and throw the ball to score points. The game is comprised of two 12-minute halves.
The 10 goalball teams are divided into groups and each team plays all of the teams in its pool. Team USA(1-1-0) is in Group A with Brazil (2-1), Japan (2-0), Algeria (0-2-1) and Lithuania (0-1-1). The top four teams from each pool moves on to the quarterfinals.
Team USA’s next preliminary-round game is Sunday, Aug. 29, against Algeria.
The epee is the heaviest of the three fencing weapons and is like a dueling sword.
In the preliminary round, the eight teams were divided into two pools and Team USA faced teams from Hungary, Ukraine and China. The teams from China won gold with the team from the Ukraine taking silver.
Each match has nine bouts, with each fencer facing off against all three fencers from the other team with a maximum time of three minutes for each bout. Each fencer is seated in a wheelchair fastened to the floor and can move their upper bodies as they attack, guard, parry and engage.
Jensen, of Salt Lake City, who is a five-time national champion, is paralyzed on her right side due to strokes she had when she was 7 years old. She started fencing when she was 15 and fences left-handed. The first-time Paralympian is engaged and planning a September wedding. She competed in the individual saber and epee tournaments.
The sabre is derived from the cavalry sword. The third and lighter weapon is the foil, which is derived from a court sword, according to olympics.com.
Team USA, including Jensen, is scheduled to compete in the team foil on Sunday, Aug. 29.
USA’s Eric Bennett scored a 608 after shooting 72 arrows in the preliminary archery round for the individual recurve tournament on Friday, Aug. 27. He was ranked 15th overall out of 31 archers. The scores from the preliminary round are used to set up the bracket for the individual and team tournaments. Bennett will face Australia’s Taymon Kenton-Smith, who was ranked 18th, on Sept. 3 when the tournament begins with the Round of 16.
In the mixed team recurve event, Bennett and teammate Emma Rose Ravish will face the team from the Russia Olympic Committee in the elimination round on Saturday, Sept. 4.
Archers shoot a target that’s 122 centimeters, or 48 inches, in diameter that is 70 meters, or about 76.5 yards, away. The target’s center band is 10 points and the outside band is 1 point.
Bennett, 48, of Surprise, Arizona, is shooting in his fourth Paralympics. He was eighth in the recurve division in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and fourth in the 2012 Games in London. The high school physics and engineering teacher in 2019 won silver at the world championships. He lost his right arm above the elbow in a car accident when he was 15 and uses a mouth tab to pull back the string.
Competing this weekend
The wheelchair rugby semifinals are Saturday, Aug. 28, with the medal matches on Sunday, Aug. 29.
New Zealand’s Lisa Adams throws in the shot put, F37, competition on Saturday.
The Dominican Republic’s Lourdes Alejandra Ayar swims in the 100-meter breaststroke, SB6, race on Saturday.
In goalball, Team USA’s game is Sunday against Algeria. Canada’s next sitting volleyball match is against Italy on Sunday, Aug. 29. In fencing, Team USA is in the women’s team foil bouts on Sunday.
On the track, Ireland’s Jason Smyth is looking to defend his gold medal in the 100-meter, T13, race. Chile’s Margarita Faundez is racing in the 1,500-meter, T11, preliminary heats.