“It was really amazing because for the first time we were having this title and it was really nice feeling,”
Turkey had not been seen as a goalball power due to their lack of presence in the Paralympic Games. But that might change following July’s European-A Championships, where both the men and women’s teams won gold medals.
Their accomplishment is noted as one of the Top 50 Moments in the Paralympic Movement in 2015.
“It was really amazing because for the first time we were having this title and it was really nice feeling,” Turkey’s men’s head coach Gokhan Ince said of the European Championships. “We were all very happy in the end of the final game. I felt like I was flying.”
In fact, neither the men or women’s teams were expected to win golds.
On the men’s side, goalball seemed to get off the ground following their bronze medal from the London 2012 Paralympic Games. That was the Turkey’s first Paralympic appearance for either side.
But the top-three men’s teams in Europe – Lithuania, Turkey and Finland, ranked No. 2, 3 and 5 in the world respectively – are not too far apart.
Defending Paralympic champion Finland reached the finals at the 2014 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Goalball World Championships but lost to Brazil. The Finnish were pegged to battle with Lithuania (who lost to the USA in the World Championship bronze medal match) for the 2015 IBSA Goalball European-A Championship title.
But it was Turkey who defeated Finland for the crown, and in a dramatic 9-8 victory. Ekrem Gundogdu led the team in scoring, finishing the tournament with 31 points.
“We were expecting to win the gold medal because we did not want to make any calculation for going to Rio Paralympics [as] only the gold medal would take us to Paralympics,” Ince said. “We prepared for it. We had very long training camp and preparation tournaments period. In the group stage, we lost against Ukraine and I think that loss woke us up.”
While the men’s team will make their second consecutive Paralympic appearance, Rio 2016 will be the women’s debut.
The Turkish women showed they are the dominate force in the European region, defeating reigning European champion and World silver medallists Russia 5-0. It was a big jump for Turkey, who won the European-B Championships in 2011 to advance into the A-pool; they also took bronze in the 2014 World Championships.
At the Championships in July, the top two women scorers were both from Turkey: Sumeyye Ozcau (23 points) and Sevda Altinoluk (20).
“I think it is the first time happening in Europe both men and women teams get the gold medal in the same time,” Ince said.
“It was amazing actually [because] no one was thinking that we could success to get gold in the European Championship,” he said. “We were not the favourite team by others. There were many European countries who fought for that title, and Turkish teams got the gold medals. That shows how important goalball is for Turkey and many thanks to our supporters.”
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2015, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.