News Archive

News for 2018

News for 2013

News for 2012

News for 2011

April 2013

Paralympics Wheelchair basketball
29th April 2013

Overpaid , oversexed, over here. The wartime barb was aimed at American GIS  and has been relatively easy to re-work ever since. Even, just about, in connection with the US team at the London Paralympics. The first proposition, even though team USA  is bankrolled by one of the wealthiest countries on earth, is unlikely.  The second, in the absence of any lurid tabloid  exposes, is a matter for conjecture. The third, after  yesterday’s shock women’s netball defeat by Australia failed to move them up the medals table, is more and more open to question.

With 227 athletes in 19 sports, USA has one of the largest teams at the Paralympics. Yet, as of Thursday morning, it had won  21 golds and 64 medals, well adrift both of Team GB(25 and 92) and China , with whom they enjoyed such an intriguing battle for Olympic supremacy less than a month ago, and down, too, on their efforts both  in Beijing four years ago ,  when they finished third behind GB  and China,  and at Athens in 2004 , when Canada picked up more gongs as well.

On the one hand it’s astonishing that a nation with so many people to choose from, so much money to spend on them and such a deep sporting tradition to inspire them should be underperforming quite so noticeably. On the other hand, taking into account the puzzling lack of  American media interest either in these games or any of their predecessors, it’s not.

In his book, Erosion of the American Sporting Ethos, Joel Nathan Rosen reckons that sport is declining across the pond as  a rational society reacts to excesses of  greed , hyper-competitiveness, hyper-masculinity(his term) and , perhaps above all, the ending of the Cold War. That, of course, might help to explain Russia’s relative decline but not the rise of China  nor the way in which so many American sports women have dedicated their every waking thought to the pursuit of Olympic and Paralympic greatness.  

But the USA women’s basketball team , gold medallists at the last two Paralympics, world champions in 2006 and 2010  favourite to take gold in London, will go home without a medal of any description. They arrived as, to use a gruesome term from the other side of the Atlantic, one of the “winningest” teams in contemporary basketball. They had lost to Germany in one of their pool games but no-one saw that as anything more than a wake-up call. They appeared  to have an all-court game and in Alana Nicholls and Sara Castle  they had the born competitors that all the great teams seem to possess. Nicholls is one of very few athletes to have won gold at both summer and winter Paralympics. Indeed her 2 golds and 2  silvers for Alpine Skiing at the 2010 Vancouver Games are an American record. Castle meanwhile had won silver in the swimming pool way back in 2000 at Sydney. 

But they were hustled out of it by a no-nonsense Australian side for whom Kylie Gauci  and Shelley Chaplin barrelled around the court like couple of demented terriers, captain Bridie Kean  was a calming presence in both and attack and the swan –like Amber Merritt constantly used her freakishly long reach and extraordinary sense of balance to make crucial interventions.

The Americans looked untroubled early on and it seemed a bit of a surprise that the scores were level at half-time. That’s when, according to Merritt, the Australians went for the jugular. “We’re finding now that the third quarter is key. We tell ourselves that it’s zero-zero and try to bring our best game to the court”. 

And how. USA’s composure was shattered  as Australia  hustled and harried them at every turn. The bounce of the ball started to favour the girls in gold  and  the scoreboard did too. The lead stretched to six points before the Americans had a decent shot on target and even though their top scorer Desi Miller got something back , two coolly taken shots by Kate Hill meant that  with just 10 minutes to go, Australia were ten points clear.

The American machine rattled belatedly into life, coughing and spluttering a bit as Nicholls missed a couple of free throws but beginning to purr as  BeccaMurray slotted home a couple of baskets  to make it a one-point game with just under three minutes to go. It seemed after all that  USA still had another gear. But in a nailbiting finale, Clare Nott of Australia and Desi Miller of the USA exchanged baskets, Merritt butchered a couple of free throws for Australia  and Rose Hollermann squandered a chance to win it for the Americans.

As far as they were concerned, this wasn’t meant to happen. But it did.

Australia now play Germany in Friday’s final.