USA and China continue golden rivalry as newcomers wait in the wings

Canada and Brazil set up bronze medal battle

CHIBA (OIS) – While predictions crumbled in the men’s sitting volleyball tournament this week, the women’s gold medal match will look the same as it has since 2008, with China (CHN) and United States (USA) battling it out for glory.

Both teams defeated their semifinal opponents in three sets at Makuhari Messe Hall on Friday, setting up Canada (CAN) and Brazil (BRA) for the bronze medal match on Saturday.

Although the podium in the women’s event could look identical to that in Rio 2016, that belies the progress new teams have made in the past five years, player Kaleo MACLAY (USA) believes.

The 25-year-old says the USA had expected to face RPC (RPC) in the gold medal match, a replay of the 2018 world championship. RPC beat Italy 3-1 on Friday to finish in fifth place.

“This is what’s so great about sitting volleyball and its development. How good the teams have gotten, to where it’s literally the best teams in the top six, when in the past it’s been the best teams in the top two,” MACLAY said.

Her teammate Lora WEBSTER (USA) said: “Sitting volleyball has always been dominant in Europe, and those were always our benchmarks. Now you just see these teams coming up, like Canada (CAN) and Italy (ITA), who are going to be a force.”

The USA will be hoping for a repeat of Rio 2016, when they lost to China in pool play and were able to win in the final. But the Chinese team will be aiming to reclaim their domination of every Paralympic Games since women’s sitting volleyball was introduced at Athens 2004, which was interrupted by the USA in Rio.

RPC and Italy both made their Paralympic debuts in Tokyo, though Svetlana CHURAKOVA (RPC) said her team was crushed by their fifth-place result.

“It’s our job, it’s not our hobby, and that’s why it’s really a pity for us that we only got fifth place for Paralympic Games, because it’s not just for fun for us, it’s our job, our life,” CHURAKOVA said.

The twelve members of the national team receive funding from the RPC to play full-time, a perk that few other sitting volleyball teams enjoy.

CHURAKOVA said that the team had much higher expectations for Tokyo 2020, their debut Games, and they struggled in their final classification match against Italy on Friday, which they eventually won 3-1.

“It was really hard to come as losers here because we didn’t play for the medal today,” CHURAKOVA said. “It was very hard to feel the self-confidence inside so we could start to play harder and stronger. We lost the first set, it was not a very big difference in points in other sets, because we just didn’t feel ourselves or the self-confidence.”