Sitting volleyball: Five things we learned from Rio 2016

What did we find out from the US women taking their first Paralympic gold and the Iranian men re-claiming their gold? 07 Oct 2016
Morteza Mehrzadselakjani IRI stretches to play the ball

Morteza Mehrzadselakjani OF iRAN stretches to play the ball in the Men's Gold Medal Match at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

ⒸSimon Bruty for OIS/IOC

For sitting volleyball at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, there were no clear favourites for the men and women’s titles. The US women had only beaten China in a major event earlier this year, and it was unclear if the USA could replicate that success on the Paralympic level. For the men’s side, both Iran and Bosnia and Herzegovina have been back-and-forth in major international competitions and were sure to field the strongest lineups.

But after Rio 2016, here are five takeaways:

1. US women confirm their status

China had won every Paralympic title since the women’s competition was added to the programme for Athens 2004. Each time China faced the USA in the finals. But this time the USA finally triumphed, and in dominating fashion to take their first Paralympic gold medal 3-0. The USA defeated China earlier in the year at the Intercontinental Championships, which was the first time they defeated their rivals in a major World ParaVolley event. But China had defeated the USA during the Paralympic preliminary rounds.

The USA’s bigs in Katie Holloway and Monique Burkland proved too much for the smaller Chinese team in the finals, and 23-year-old Bethany Zummo broke through as a rising libero who can take the USA farther in the coming years.

2. Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rivalry is still alive

Iran and Bosnia and Herzegovina met for the fifth straight Paralympic final in the men’s competition, and each year, they have traded the gold medal. The final only showcased the strength of both programmes. However, what probably seemed to lift Iran over the top was the tallest man at the Paralympic Games in Morteza Mehrzadselakjani, who accounted for 28 of Iran’s 96 points. He was just one of four Iranians who scored in double figures, as Iran had plenty momentum in their 3-1 victory. Unknown however is if both teams will have the same calibre players for Tokyo 2020.

3. Egypt must not be underestimated

The Brazilian men were expected to medal in their home games, but the electric crowd was not enough to lift them over African champions Egypt in a five-set thriller. The bronze medal match could have gone either way, but it was Egypt, led by Hesham Elshwikh, who came through. It was Egypt’s first medal since Athens 2004, when they also took bronze.

4. Brazil hungrier for more

The Brazilian men could not achieve their first ever Paralympic medal. The women’s side on the other hand were victorious in capturing their nation’s first medal in the sport with a 3-0 victory over Ukraine. With one coming close to a medal, and another tasting success in front of their home crowd, Brazil’s sitting volleyball programme can only build from there.

5. Ukrainian women on the rise

The Ukrainian women’s team showed their potential in Rio. After taking gold in the 2015 European Championships, then reaching the bronze medal match, Ukraine can take confidence from those successes.