Wheelchair basketball star Beijer getting used to pressure

As one of the world’s top scorers, Mariska Beijer is used to drawing defences. But that has made her even more ready for Rio 2016. 04 Mar 2016
Mariska Beijer

Mariska Beijer helped lead the Netherlands to a bronze-medal finish at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

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By Laurie Lawira | For the IPC

“Winning gold. We just want gold.”

There is an irony in Mariska Beijer naming Michael Jordan as one of her heroes because some resemblances between the NBA great and the Netherland’s centre are uncanny.

“He is just so consistent, I mean his shooting form is so nice and I just like his grit that he always works hard and never gives up,” the 24-year-old said with a little chuckle.

Beijer is also an impressive shooter. Classified as a 4.0 player, she was the top scorer at the 2015 European Wheelchair Basketball Championships with 23.6 points per game. Like Jordan, Beijer spends time before and after training sessions to perfect her skills.

“I start 15 minutes before practice to do my thing and sometimes stay behind to do something extra,” she said. “We do a lot of conditioning – I mean a lot of conditioning – but I feel like I have to do more.”

According to Beijer, the Dutch squad is going through some of the toughest preparations she’s endured, all to achieve the nation’s first ever Paralympic gold medal in women’s wheelchair basketball.

That hard work is paying dividends.

“We are rotating so quick on defence now, it’s almost ridiculous. So that’s pretty cool,” Beijer said.

Inner confidence is obviously growing too as the team spends more and more time together, and it has helped by having a core group that is largely unchanged from last year’s European Championship team that took silver.

That result, however, was not a cause for celebration for Beijer.

The Netherlands, seeking their second straight European title, went through the round games undefeated, but fell to defending Paralympic champion Germany 72-62 in the final.

“If we play sloppy [like we did] in the [European] gold medal game, we won’t be able to make it because the level is so high at the moment [at the Paralympics], you cannot afford to be sloppy anywhere,” she said.

The Netherlands have a number of international matches and tournaments to prepare for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

“[We’re] looking out for teams like Canada, America, [Great Britain], China, Germany, those are the main teams... because they’re really strong,” she said.

But it may actually be that those same teams are closely examining Beijer and will orient their defences around her.

“Over the years the pressure has risen for me,” Beijer said. “Even at London, it was my first [Paralympic] Games… and I could just do my thing. People notice me [now] and they’re starting to ask a lot of questions about how I play, and how I do it, what I do for practice, this kind of stuff. So over the years I’ve got used to more pressure.

“I’m getting stronger each and every single day [and] luckily I’m really blessed with an injury-free body. It’s hard for me to get injured on my shoulders and arms so it’s a good thing. I don’t ever have to be worried about that.”

With training gaining full momentum and the team becoming more cohesive, Beijer knows exactly what the objective is for the Rio Paralympics in September this year.

“Personally, I just want to win every single game,” she said.

“Winning gold. We just want gold.”

Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs).

The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.

Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.