No.27: USA seals double gold, Spain surprises

After leaving London, Great Britain, in 2012 with a sense of disappointment, as the women’s team could not make it to the Paralympic podium and the men’s team ‘only’ captured bronze, the USA completed a stunning progression to become the undefeated champions in both events at Rio 2016.
The Spanish men’s team also made history last September by finishing second to claim their first ever Paralympic medal.
These amazing moments enter at No. 27 in the International Paralympic Committee’s Top 50 Moments of 2016.
The USA not only won both gold medals, but went through the event without registering a loss to win the men’s and women’s titles at the same Paralympic Games again after 28 years. They also became the first nation to achieve the feat since Canada did it 16 years ago in Sydney, Australia.
Two-time Paralympian Rebecca Murray was one of the key leaders of the women’s team, scoring 169 points to finish as the top scorer. Her haul included 33 points, more than half of her team’s total, in the 62-45 win over Germany in the gold-medal match.
“Our team is very selfless. We had tonnes of people who did a lot of different things, so we had to get the ball to whoever’s hot or whoever’s making the shots and open,” said the 26-year-old.
“That just happened and it happened to be me that game. So it was awesome.”
A whopping 93-37 win against France in their debut was followed by overwhelming victories over China, the Netherlands and Algeria to finish top of Group B and send a strong signal to their opponents of their intentions.
They went on to defeat hosts Brazil in the quarter-finals and Great Britain in the semi-finals to qualify for the final as the favourites for gold.
But never at any stage did this translate to a sense of entitlement and the team only focused on working hard as a team. The earliest realisation that a gold medal was in reach for Murray came late into the final.
“I would say probably in the fourth quarter because you never know when a team is going to go on a run and how long that run is going to be,” she said.
“With Germany being a good team, it just was a matter of one person hitting that key shot and that would give them hope.”
At the same time, their male counterparts were also enjoying success. Led by co-captains Steve Serio and Michael Paye, the US men’s team put on 614 points throughout the competition to their opponent’s mere 349, with the lowest winning margin still in the double figures - 16 points in the showpiece against Spain.
“We by no means thought that it was going to lend itself out that way. Each practice, each time we trained, we thought, we practiced as if it was going to be a one or two point game, in every game that we competed in,” said Serio.
“I think that motivated us and drove us to train much harder. Ultimately, it ended up helping us the fact that we did not really have a close game in Rio, that was the biggest surprise.”
Meeting the Spanish men’s side in the final was perhaps the biggest surprise in the tournament. Spain topped their group with four wins and a loss, upsetting strong medal contenders Australia in the group stages, Germany in the quarter-finals and then Great Britain for a place in the gold-medal match.
Despite the USA’s skyrocketing confidence, they were not prepared to take an easy approach on a side whose best ever result in Europe was third before winning their first Paralympic medal ever, in Rio.
“You have one bad game and it can throw out the seedings, throw out the match ups,” said Serio.
“So we were not shocked, we took it game by game and looked at the opponent ahead of us, tried to figure out a game plan that was going to lead us to success. We tried to focus on us and not necessarily on other teams.”
If their statistics are anything to go by, the Spanish team excelled as a cohesive unit. Alejandro Zarzuela scored 147 tournament points, but a further 145 were from players on the bench and 99 came from turnovers.
The challenge for the silver medallists now lies to go one better, whilst USA will go from the chaser to the chased. Their objective in four years-time is to defend both golds, a task the women have not succeeded in doing since 2008, and the men, even longer than that - since 1976.
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2016, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.