The U.S. women’s goalball team upset the reigning Paralympic champion with a 4-3 win over Turkey on Monday night.
The world No. 1, Turkey was undefeated in group play – with wins over No. 3 Brazil, No. 5 Japan and Egypt – until meeting the U.S. for its final Group D match.
The fourth-ranked U.S. team, meanwhile, held a 2-1 record with wins over Brazil and Egypt, but a 3-2 loss to Japan on Saturday.
Goalball is contested on a court reminiscent of the one used for indoor volleyball, with three players per team on the court at at time. Athletes who are visually impaired or completely blind wear eyeshades to level the playing field and throw a hard rubber ball – which features a bell inside – into the opposing team’s net, which is 9 meters wide and 1.3 meters high. Athletes block the ball with their bodies.
Sevda Altunoluk, the only athlete returning from Turkey’s 2016 gold-medal team, started the scoring just 12 seconds in, and 3:31 later she built on that to bring the lead to 2-0.
The Americans were on the board four minutes later thanks to two-time Paralympian Eliana Mason who scored a penalty goal after Fatma Gul Guler, Turkey’s youngest player at 17, served a violation for a long ball. Altunoluk, a two-time world medalist, reinforced Turkey’s dominance less than a minute later, now up 3-1.
Six-time Paralympian Asya Miller, 41, scored the final goal of the first half to keep the Americans in the game.
Altunoluk started the second half with a long ball penalty, allowing three-time Paralympian Amanda Dennis to score and tie the game at 3-3. Turkey was unable to find the net through the 12-minute period, and Dennis scored the final goal with 2:15 left, eventually ensuring the surprise victory.
Turkey had won the 2016 Paralympic gold medal, when the U.S. earned bronze, and the 2018 World Championships silver medal. Four of Turkey’s Paralympic team members played at those 2018 Worlds, with five of the six earning the 2019 European title.
Both teams advance to Wednesday’s quarterfinals, where the U.S. plays RPC (Russian Paralympic Committee), which had a 2-2 group play record; Russia won the 2018 World title, however. Turkey plays world No. 10 Australia, which also went 2-2.
The U.S. women have medaled at six of the nine Paralympic goalball tournaments to date, winning in 1984 and 2008. Turkey’s 2016 gold was the program’s first Paralympic medal.
The U.S. men’s team played world No. 2 and defending Paralympic champion Lithuania on Monday, falling 13-3. The men’s quarterfinals are Tuesday, with the U.S. facing Ukraine. Both teams were 2-2 in group play.
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