Sport preview: Sitting volleyball

United States women are determined delayed arrival won’t derail gold medal bid

CHIBA (OIS) – The road to the Paralympics is often tricky, but no team has navigated more roadblocks en route to Tokyo 2020 than the United States women’s sitting volleyball squad.

The defending gold medallists had to scramble to get their athletes physically into Japan after a number of positive Covid cases in the weeks leading up to the Games.

Two of the 12-member team tested positive for Covid, and close-contact requirements meant the squad was quarantined, delaying their arrival in Japan by more than a week.

“We’ve really leaned on each other, because this is such a unique world we’re entering into,” Lora WEBSTER (USA) told the Olympic Information Service.

Most of the USA team arrive in Tokyo a mere 36 hours before the first game, but the four who were able to travel to Japan early are giving virtual tours to the others, trying to explain things about the venue and Olympic Village.

“We know we are all prepared, we’ve all done this before,” said WEBSTER, who will be competing at her fifth Paralympic Games.

“Even though we might not have the time to prep physically in Japan as a team, we’re ready”.

WEBSTER said the last-minute changes to the roster haven’t shaken the USA’s resolve to take home another gold medal.

“Our team is 17 deep for a reason. We are all in this together,” she said.

China (CHN) are likely to be the biggest challengers. Prior to Rio 2016, China had won every gold medal, but had to settle for silver in Rio.

On the men’s side, Iran (IRI) are expected to claim another gold medal with the help of star player Morteza MEHRZADSELAKJANI (IRI), the tallest athlete at the Paralympic Games and the joint second tallest man in the world, at 2.46m tall (8ft 1 inch).

Even from a seated position, MEHRZADSELAKJANI, towers over the other players and can spike the ball from a height of 2.30m (7.5 feet).

He scored 28 points in the gold medal game in Rio against Iran’s main rivals Bosnia & Herzegovina (BIH) and stopping him is the biggest challenge facing every other nation.

“We have to sit shorter to the net because of the angle he can hit, and that’s how we can defend some spikes from him,” Florian SINGER (GER) said.

Iran and Bosnia & Herzegovina have contested the gold medal match at each of the past five Paralympic Games, Iran winning three golds (Sydney 2000, Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016) and Bosnia & Herzegovina two (Athens 2004 and London 2012).