OTTAWA – Canada’s men’s and women’s goalball teams will have their first opportunity to lock up a spot for the 2024 Paralympic Games at the world championships which run December 8 to 17 in Matosinhos, Portugal.
But it won’t be easy.
The Canadian women’s side is heading in with a dose of confidence after a strong showing at a pre-worlds tournament in Berlin this past summer. The team finished fourth but stretched the Paralympic silver medallist Americans to overtime in an unusually low scoring 1-0 loss.
“At the tournament in Berlin we faced teams we hadn’t seen in a long time,” said Canadian team captain and four-time Paralympian Amy Burk of Ottawa. “We saw the little things we can fix prior to the world championships. Things that can make our game just that much crisper.”
Goalball is one of two sports unique to the Paralympics (the other is boccia). It is played by visually impaired athletes on a gym court, and the objective of the game is to throw the ball using a bowling motion into the opponent’s net while the opposing players try to block the ball with their bodies. The 1.25 kilogram ball has noise bells which help orientate the players.
The Canadian women’s team has been particularly successful with five Paralympic Games medals including back-to-back gold in 2000 and 2004. The Canadians were fourth at the last worlds in 2018 and posted a self-described disappointing ninth place at Tokyo 2020.
“We want to come back and focus on our defensive game,” said Canada’s Megan Mahon from Calgary. “We are known as a defensive team across the international world. We want to make sure we are on the same page, and making sure our defensive alignment and things like that are consistent and where they should be.”
Turkey, USA, and Japan were 1-2-3 at the Paralympics last year while Israel and Brazil are also expected to be in the medal mix along with the Canadian women.
The number of women’s entries at the worlds will hit the 16-team mark for the first time.
“That’s a huge accomplishment on the women’s side that we have many great quality teams now,” said Burk. “We can’t take anything for granted and we are going to approach each game as if elimination is on the line.”
On the men’s side, Canada did not qualify for the 2020 Paralympics, losing a close match to the U.S. in a decisive semifinal at the 2019 Parapan Am Games. These worlds are an opportunity for the Canadians to reclaim some of its lost turf.
“We’re really looking forward to getting back on the world scene,” said Doug Ripley of Vancouver, a two-time Paralympian. “Our program has gone through a lot since then. We’ve really come together as a group of athletes and our coach (Nathalie Séguin) has really been part of keeping us close and tight knit during the pandemic with some of the challenges.”
Brazil is the reigning world and Paralympic champion in men’s goalball. Other top contenders include Lithuania, China, Belgium and Germany. Canada was 12th at the 2018 worlds.