By: Keegan Matheson
Canadian Paralympic Media Consortium
Sept. 15, 2016 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - In the last four Paralympic Games stretching back to 2000 in Sydney, Australia, the final buzzer of the Canadian men’s wheelchair basketball tournament has signalled the end of the gold medal game.
The men’s team captured gold in three of four opportunities, but on Wednesday morning in Rio, Canada’s tournament-ending win only earned them 11th place in a classification game against Algeria.
Canada’s roster will now go their separate ways following months of full centralization for training in Toronto. Two-thirds of the roster has been together since the 2015 Parapan Am Games, and that demanding personal commitment will be at the forefront of conversations that head coach Steve Bialowas has with veteran players like David Eng, Adam Lancia, Abdi Dini, and Bo Hedges.
“They’ll take some time to reflect and see where they’re going and then we’ll look at our four year quad,” Bialowas said after Canada’s win. “What we can show them is what we’ll be doing over the next four years and how it would fit into their lives.”
Hedges, now 36 and a three-time Paralympian, plans on playing through to the 2020 Tokyo Games. After a quick rest in Toronto, Hedges will head west to spend time at his parent’s cattle ranch in northern British Columbia before returning to train.
That 2020 team holds the potential to bounce the national program back towards the podium, especially with the number of young and emerging players in Canada’s system.
Nik Goncin will be 28 by those Games, and is flying to Germany to play professionally in Hamburg shortly after Rio. Liam Hickey is Canada’s youngest player at 18 and will be just 22 in Tokyo. The St John’s, Nfld. native is looking forward to returning to sledge hockey this winter and hopes to someday reach the winter Paralympics as well.
Leading all of these athletes into the stadium at the Rio opening ceremonies was Eng, 39, who came close to missing the Games with an injury and, for now, has one plan for his immediate future.
“I’ve been out six months,” Eng said. “I almost wasn’t here so I’m really enjoying this process and enjoying keeping things in perspective. Going back home, I really can’t wait to go and kiss my wife Stephanie.”
Lancia, 36, debuted at the Paralympics with Eng at the 2004 Games and plans to take the time following these Rio Games to evaluate his own options as a player. Dini, 35, will make that same decision but, like Lancia, plans to remain involved in growing and developing the sport regardless of his national team status.
“I never doubted that the future looks bright for our program,” said Hedges, who was already expressing optimism for 2020.
Coach Bialowas reiterated his pride in these veterans, who regardless of their eventual decisions on Tokyo, have worked hard to put the national team back on the upswing in coming years.
“They’re entering the end of their careers,” Bialowas said. “Whether they retire or not I don’t know, but at the same time, they’ve used the experiences they’ve had in the past and shared that with the younger guys.”