Turkey and Lithuania took the gold-medal glory on finals day of the goalball competition, with victories for their women’s and men’s teams respectively.
Turkey upset a formidable Chinese side to win the women’s gold on Friday (16 September) in their first appearance at a Paralympic Games.
And Lithuania’s men dominated their way to the top of the podium to win gold over the USA in a convincing 14-8 win.
Brazil featured in both the bronze medal matches with the men treating their home crowd to a spirited win over Sweden, but the USA proved too strong for the women.
China went into the women’s gold medal game as the favourites against the Turkish debutants, but the newcomers were too well-rehearsed for their Chinese counterparts winning 4-1.
China managed to nullify the Turkish team for over six minutes, which no other team has been able to do at the Games. However, Turkey’s star player, Sevda Altunoluk persevered with a series of high ball attacks and was rewarded late in the seventh minute to open the scoring 1-0.
Turkey’s second goal came in the second half with the ball creeping into the corner thanks to Altunoluk who found the acute angle from across court.
Seda Yildiz picked up a third goal for Turkey in the 14th minute with help from a deflection off China’s Wei Zhang.
Fengqing Chen put China on the board with a goal in the 18th minute, but then gave away a penalty soon after, allowing Turkey to counterattack. With two missed penalty attempts, it was third time lucky for Altunoluk who blasted a goal down the side of the court to extend the lead back out to 4-1 and run away with the win.
“We knew before we come that we would be the winners,” said Altunoluk.
“It’s a big advantage for us, and a young team also plants the seed for the future as well.”
The men’s gold medal game started off as a one-way affair with Lithuania exploding out to a 9-1 lead with Genrik Pavliukianec and Justas Pazarauskas getting the job done scoring four and five goals respectively. It was Andy Jenks who got the USA on the board with a smooth long ball that stumped all three of Lithuania’s defenders.
Trailing by eight goals and with the odds stacked against them, the American’s shuffled their line-up to present a more aggressive style of attack. Matt Simpson was the key feature in the rearrangement scoring four goals to bring the win back into contention at 11-7.
“We were playing a kind of conservative game at the beginning and we tried to play defence as hard as we could. We let them score goals, we got behind and then we had to be a little bit riskier,” said America’s John Kusku.
Despite the late surge from the Americans, Lithuania managed to retrieve their winning formula from earlier in the game with Pavliukianec scoring a hatrick in the final two minutes of the match to seal victory for Lithuania. It was heir first ever gold medal at a Paralympic Games in goalball.
The USA were in red hot form coming into the Paralympics having won bronze at the 2014 world championships in Espoo and picking up silver at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games.
“It was wonderful, but it is awful. We had the silver medal won yesterday, we played for the gold today,” said Kusko. “We did not play the game that we wanted to play and they played the game they wanted”
Thousands of local fans flocked to the Future Arena for the afternoon session to watch Brazil compete for bronze in both the men’s and women’s tournaments. After a close encounter the women were defeated by the USA 3-2, while the men came from behind in a courageous battle to take down Sweden 6-5 in extra time.
The women’s game was a rematch of the final from the 2015 Parapan American Games, but this time it was the USA who came out on top in Rio. The American outfit was a blend of youth and experience with many of their players seeking redemption after their fifth place finish in London four years ago.
“This is so special because we lost in London and we were favourites to win. This time around we worked so hard to get here, we worked four years to win when it mattered, and we won when it mattered so it means so much,” said two-time Paralympian, Amanda Dennis.
It was a different story for the Brazilian men who secured their second consecutive Paralympic medal in front of a fanatical home crowd. They had to work hard for their win, coming from 0-4 down to level the score in the 23rd minute.
“It was patience. The hard work we’ve been putting together and patience, that made all the difference,” said Brazilian debutant, Josemarcio Sousa.
Jimmy Bjoerkstrand almost undid all of Brazil’s hard work scoring for Sweden with one minute remaining, but the Brazilian’s weren’t done yet. With just 15 seconds left on the clock, Leomon Moreno hit back with the equalizer sending the crowd into a frenzy and the game into extra time (golden point).
Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the opening half of the golden point extra time. It took just one minute after the break for Moreno to score the winning goal for Brazil triggering thunderous roars across the arena.
“It tastes like gold. In London  nobody heard a crowd like this, chanting for us all the time, even when we were losing by four goals they kept chanting ‘I do believe’. That gave us all we needed for the comeback,” Moreno said.