Paralympic Games
7-18 September

USA end gold-medal drought

The US men’s wheelchair basketball team defeated Spain for their first Paralympic gold since 1988. 17 Sep 2016
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Group of men in wheelchairs celebrate after winning gold.

USA celebrate after beating Spain for the gold medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

ⒸGetty
By IPC

“Four years later to win the gold it’s been an amazing journey."

It had been 28 long years.

But now they’re back in the big time.

Going undefeated throughout the tournament, the US men showed they are back on top of the wheelchair basketball scene, nearly three decades since they last claimed gold.

And they underlined their dominance of this year’s competition in defeating Spain 68-52 for the gold on Saturday (17 September).

“To think about what we accomplished and to accomplish it together with this group of guys, it’s special,” the USA’s joint-team captain Steve Serio said.

“From my personal experience, getting fourth at Beijing [2008] was really hard. Getting bronze at London [2012] was an important stepping stone for the programme, just to know that we belong on the podium.

“Four years later to win the gold it’s been an amazing journey. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Serio – who finished with a notable 10 assists – orchestrated the US attack that showed plenty of ball movement and patience.

That patience was enough to ensure that, although Spain hung in, the US managed to pull away in the fourth quarter.

Only up 28-22 at half-time, the US struggled to contain Spain’s twin towers Alejandro and Pablo Zarzuela, who finished with 20 and 16 points respectively.

Alejandro Zarzuela scored 12 of his points in the first half, most from inside the paint. His brother added 11 in the third quarter alone that drew Spain within 47-42.

But the US remained patient, and their time came in the fourth.

Jake Williams, who had a team-high 20 points, got the scoring fest going for his side. The USA went on a 12-4 run, with Williams owning seven of those points.

His 3-pointer right at the end of the third was just the start. Serio added one of his own in the fourth-quarter run.

“Jake started to hit his 3s. I started to hit mine. When you start to make your outside shots, you start to gain a little more confidence,” Serio said.

“The core has been intact for a while,” Serio said. “The cool thing about our team is that we kept this terrific mix of young talent with some of the older veterans who have been there and done that.

“When we mesh those things together, things just start to click for us.”

Friday’s run was historic for Spain, who had never won a Paralympic medal in the sport.

The team finished fifth at the 2015 European Championships, where Great Britain and Turkey have battled for the gold over the last three Championships. Germany took the bronze.

“We came here, and we did not expect to be in the final. We have our own [physical strength], our own character, but our talent is not the best,” Pablo Zarzuela said. “I think the more teams with more talent than us. But our heart and our confidence has been the key of our success.”

Spain turned the tables when they defeated the Germans 70-66 in the quarterfinals, then Great Britain 69-63 to advance for the gold-medal game.

From fifth at the London 2012 Paralympics to silver at Rio 2016, Spain held their heads up after the loss.

“We are changing things in wheelchair basketball in Spain,” Spanish coach Jose Manuel Artacho said. “We hope we are doing the things right. Year by year, tournament by tournament, we show that we can do it. It is our goal.”