Latter-day Saints in the Paralympics, days 8 & 9: Sitting volleyball and goalball teams to compete for medals, plus updates in swimming, track and discus

Canada’s women’s sitting volleyball team is headed to the semifinals and USA’s men’s goalball team is competing for the bronze medal after competitions on days eight and nine of the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Both teams include players who are connected to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Other athletes connected to the Church competed in swimming, on the track and in discus.

Sitting volleyball 

With a 3-0 win over Japan, the Canadian women’s sitting volleyball team is headed to the semifinals and a shot at a medal.

Canada, including field player Payden Vair, won against Japan 25-19, 25-15 and 25-20 in the team’s third preliminary Pool A round match on Wednesday, Sept. 1. Vair played in the third match. 

The eight women’s sitting volleyball teams are divided into two pools and each team plays the other three teams in the pool. Canada (2-1) was in Pool A with Brazil (3-0), Italy (1-2) and Japan (0-3). The top two teams from each pool moved to the semifinals and play the top two team from Pool B. 

They play China in the semifinals on Friday, Sept. 3. The winner will play the winner of Brazil versus the United States for the gold medal this weekend. 

Vair, 20, 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. 

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. 

Goalball 

With an 8-1 semifinal loss to China on Thursday, Sept. 2, Team USA, including Daryl Walker, is headed to the bronze medal match against Lithuania on Friday, Sept. 3.

The two teams have battled for medals before. In the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Lithuania and USA were in the gold medal match — and Lithuania won gold. More recently, USA played Lithuania in the preliminary pool round and lost 3-13

In Thursday’s match against China, Walker played 10 minutes and contributed 12 throws. Walker, 39, was part of the silver medal winning team in 2016. Walker, 39, who hails from Florida and trains in Indiana, has albinoism that affects his eyesight and is legally blind. 

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 and holes in it. There are goals at each end of the court that span the 9-meter, or 29.5-foot, width of the court. 

Each team is allowed three players on the court and all players wear darkened visors, or eye shades, to equalize visual ability as they defend their goal that is 1.3 meters, or 1.4 yards, tall and throw the ball to score points. 

The sport made its debut in the Paralympic Games in 1975 and is one of two sports at the Paralympics that doesn’t have an Olympic counterpart. 

Swimming 

New Zealand's Tupou Neiufi, back, swims in the 50-meter freestyle S8 heats at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2021.
New Zealand’s Tupou Neiufi, back, swims in the 50-meter freestyle S8 heats at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2021. Credit: screenshot via nbcolympics.com

Both New Zealand’s Tupou Neiufui and Dominican Republic’s Lourdes Alejandra Aybar Diaz swam in the preliminary heats for the 50-meter freestyle, S8 (for physical impairments). 

In heat 1, Toupu came in second with a time of 32.47 seconds. She was fourth overall of the 13 swimmers in the two heats and was one of the top eight that qualified for the finals. 

In heat 2, Aybar’s time of 36.82 seconds put her in seventh place. 

In the finals, Tupou swam the 50 meters in 31.48 seconds and was fifth overall. 

Earlier in the Paralympics, Tupou, 20, won gold in the 100-meter backstroke S8 (for physical impairments). When Neifu was 2 years old, she was involved in a hit-and-run accident that resulted in brain bruising and left-side paralysis. She had to relearn how to sit, walk and use her arms. She first tried netball and then swimming to help her after the accident. She began swimming at 10 years old and competing at 11. Tokyo is her second Paralympics. Originally an alternate in 2016, she competed after a teammate’s injury. 

This is the first Paralympics for Aybar — and she’s also the first Paralympic swimmer to represent her native Dominican Republic. 

Aybar, who is an industrial engineer, is 4 foot 3 inches tall, has brittle bone disease, osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as crystal bone disease.

She previously competed in the 100-meter breaststroke, SB6 (for physical impairments) and is scheduled to swim in the 100-meter butterfly S8. The preliminary heats and finals are on Friday, Sept. 3.

Track and field

USA's David Blair gives a thumbs up at the beginning of the discus F44/F64 final at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.
USA’s David Blair gives a thumbs up at the beginning of the discus F44/F64 final at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Credit: screenshot via nbcolympics.com

On a rainy evening at Olympic Stadium, USA’s David Blair was fourth of the five athletes in the discus, in a mixed division of F44 and F64. Both divisions include lower limb deficiencies; F44 is where a prosthesis isn’t required and F64 is the one for when a prosthesis is required.

Each competitor has six chances to get the longest throw with the discus that is 8.6 inches in diameter, 1.75 inches thick at the center and weighs 4.4 pounds. 

The rain made the throwing circle slippery and workers and athletes continued to dry it off throughout the competition. 

Blair had two throws that counted. His second throw was 53.18 meters, or 174.47 feet, and his fourth was 48.00 meters, or 157.48 feet. 

He slipped on the third round and was able to talk to the officials about redoing the throw. It unfortunately went into the side netting. 

Blair, 45, of Eagle Mountain, Utah, was the reigning gold medalist from 2016 in Rio and is the Paralympic record holder with 64.11 meters that still stands. He set the world record of 64.26 meters in May in Tucson, Arizona, at the USA Track and Field Throws Festival. 

Blair, who was born with a club foot, was high school state champion in discus and received an athletics scholarship to Weber State University, setting records along the way. He picked up the sport after 16 years and then qualified to compete in Rio, where he set a Paralympic record. He’s been battling health challenges, including a broken foot in 2019, and COVID-19 in 2020 followed by appendicitis. 

USA's Taylor Talbot lines up to race in the women's 400 meter T13 preliminary heats at the Olympic Stadium during the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.
USA’s Taylor Talbot lines up to race in the women’s 400 meter T13 preliminary heats at the Olympic Stadium during the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Credit: screenshot via nbcolympics.com

USA’s Taylor Talbot ran in the 400 meters T13 (for visual impairments) on Thursday, Sept. 2. The BYU–Idaho student was fourth in the second heat and 13th overall with a time of 1:04.76. 

The top two in each of the three heats moved on to the finals, plus the next two fastest runners, among the 15 runners. 

Talbot, 20, of Oregon, has retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition, and is legally blind. When the Paralympic track and field team was announced, she was the final name on the roster. The next day, she was told that there was a calculation error and that she wasn’t on the team. She was later named as an alternate and then given a direct invite to come to Tokyo. 

She also raced in the 100 meter T13 earlier this week. 

Upcoming competitions

In goalball, the bronze medal is on the line for Team USA, including Walker, and Lithuania on Friday, Sept. 3.

In sitting volleyball, Canada, including Vair, is playing China in the semifinals on Friday.

USA’s Eric Bennett is shooting in the individual recurve archery tournament on Friday, Sept. 3. 

Dominican Republic’s Aybar is swimming in her third race of the Games — the 100-meter butterfly S8.

Read more of Church News’ coverage of athletes connected to the Church competing in the Paralympics

On social 

Australia’s Todd Hodgetts was one of three athletes who received a did not start, or DNS, for being late for the call room prior to the shot put F20 competition earlier this week. He was allowed to compete under protest and Athletics Australia filed a protest. Both Athletics Australia  and Hodgetts shared on social media that their protest had been denied and the DNS will stand. 

“While obviously disappointed the Hulkster is now looking forward to next year’s world titles and then Paris in 2024,” was posted on his Facebook page. 

Swimmer Neifu shared how she had no expectations going into the 50-meter freestyle and was “over the moon” to make it to the finals. 

Sprinter Jason Smyth, of Ireland, said farewell to Tokyo.