"I am happy that I am a small part of the best team in the world."
New champions, a memorable debut on the women’s side, and a return to glory for a well-known force in the men’s event were just a few of the sitting volleyball’s highlights at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
These memorable moments in the sport make it to No. 19 in the International Paralympic Committee’s Top 50 Moments of 2016.
After winning bronze at Athens 2004 and silver at both Beijing 2008 and London 2012, the US women´s team always seemed to come up just short against perennial favourites and three-time gold medallists China.
But after the USA defeated China in the final of March’s Intercontinental Cup, anticipation for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games was at an all-time high.
Spectators did not have to wait long to see the two arch-rivals face off after they were drawn together in pool B. The USA lost the first encounter 3-2.
Both teams went on to qualify for the final which was another story altogether, with the USA surprisingly winning 3-0. Rarely does one see a game plan executed so flawlessly. After the match, even the athletes themselves struggled to believe they had won so easily.
“It honestly is the best feeling in the world, to see 12 women and six staff members come together to reach one goal is truly amazing,” said USA’s player Alexis Shifflett. “I could not be more proud to stand next to those people. We all knew what it was going to take to reach it”.
It was a dream final for the USA, who put on a clinic of skill, control, discipline and execution.
Despite finishing their Rio 2016 campaign with no victories, the Rwandan team also heard one of the loudest cheers at the Pavilion 6, at Riocentro. They became the first Sub-Saharan female team in history, in any sport, to compete at the Paralympic Games.
In their first game, against powerhouses China, the crowd went crazy when Rwanda won their first-ever point at the Paralympics.
Even though the African team could not win any set throughout the tournament, their performance was magical and proved the future of sitting volleyball shines brightly.
When asked about the competition in Rio, Shifflet was amazed, stating: “each team we faced has gotten better in some shape or form. To see our sport grow like that is amazing. I really cannot wait to see where the future of sitting volleyball goes.”
In the men’s event, Iran went into the competition in great shape, keen to put the disappointment of silver at London 2012 behind them.
The Asian team progressed unbeaten into the final, where they face reigning Paralympic champions Bosnia and Herzegovina, who they had defeated 3-0 in the group-stage. And Iran once again emerged as the winners with a convincing 3-1 victory to seal their sixth Paralympic title.
"I am happy that I am a small part of the best team in the world," said Iran’s 2.46m tall Morteza Mehrzadselakjani, who ended as the match’s decisive top scorer with 28 points.
Before the beginning of the gold-medal game, the champions honoured Iranian cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad, who had died in an accident in the road race C4, carrying a photo of the deceased onto the court.
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2016, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.