After Paralympic bronze, Japan’s women’s goalball team aims to develop the sport

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Japan’s women’s goalball team left Makuhari Messe on Friday with bronze medals around their necks and hope that the noise they made in the silent sport of the Paralympic Games will reverberate across Japan.

The Japanese won their first medal in the sport since 2012 with a 6-1 victory over Brazil in the bronze medal match.

“I thought we would get a lot of attention if we win a medal at the Paralympic Games,” said Yuki Temma. “I think winning the bronze medal is a chance to spark interest in goalball. I would be really happy if the number of people who wanted to watch goalball increased. “

The Japanese have lost only twice in the Paralympics, with both losses coming to eventual champion Turkey.

Japan improved to fifth place at the Rio Games and team members are hoping bronze will help boost the sport with the Paris Games in just three years.

“Goalball is not yet a major competition,” said Norika Hagiwara. “So I hope a lot of people have learned that through this tournament and will support us.”

Goalball is one of two Paralympic sports with no Olympic equivalent – boccia is the other – and is probably not a competition that many are familiar with. It is played by visually impaired athletes on a volleyball-sized court. There are three players on each side and the goal is to get the ball into the opposing team’s net.

Norika Hagiwara, Rie Urata, Eiko Kakehata and Yuki Temma won bronze in women’s goalball. | REUTERS

It is played in silence to allow athletes to capture the movements of their opponents and the ball, which has bells inside.

“We are thrilled with all the visibility goalball has received from the Games,” said American Lisa Czechowski, who helped her team to silver.

“We’re so excited to see how this will continue to take off in the United States, where more and more people are going to learn more about our incredibly great sport.”

For the Turkish women’s team, a second consecutive gold medal is another chance to develop the game in a nation that already has a competitive women’s league.

“As we win as many gold medals as possible, we can bring more people inside (the sport),” said Reyhan Yilmaz, who was stellar defensively against the United States in Friday’s final. .

“When they see our victories, they want to be a part of this sport and of this family.

“It was really important for Turkish blind sports, and a lot more people will want to feel those emotions.”

Turkey were led by veteran Sevda Altunoluk, who scored 46 goals during the competition, but the power of goalball could have a rising star to move forward with with 17-year-old Fatma Gul Guler, who has recorded the most minutes for his team during the Games. .

Turkey's Fatma Gul Guler blocks a ball in the women's goalball final against the United States on Friday.  |  AFP-JIJI
Turkey’s Fatma Gul Guler blocks a ball in the women’s goalball final against the United States on Friday. | AFP-JIJI

Despite her own youth, she sent a message to young girls hoping to follow in her footsteps.

“They should never (stop) when it’s difficult,” she said. “They have to believe they can be here.”

Hagiwara could be among the players Japan promotes the most as they try to grow their domestic fan base. The 20-year-old finished his first Paralympic Games with 25 goals, just behind Altunoluk. Hagiwara is the youngest player on the Tokyo 2020 squad and, with her scoring talent, could be Japan’s future star.

“I still have issues defensively so I want to do my best for the next goal,” she said.

As Hagiwara turns to Paris, where she has said the goal will be to win gold, she expects her role on the team to change as she gains experience.

“I’m confident on offense that I have a ball that can work on the world stage, and even when I’m nervous I want to enjoy the games,” she said. “I think we could also have young players at the Paralympic Games in Paris, and I hope I can help them in the same way the senior players have helped me here.”

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