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This week it gets real for Rio
Charlotte (Steve Goldberg's Wheel World) - An email came through on Wednesday alerting me to the fact that it was now officially one year out from the opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero next August 5, the beginning of the nearly two month long sports festival that will conclude with the Paralympic Games closing ceremony on September 18.
This is the unofficial but traditional time when everything kicks into a higher gear, for the organizers, for the athletes, and for the TV networks around the world who are now earnestly figuring out the storylines of how they will promote and broadcast the games.
The biggest story for pretty much everyone but the organizers right now is who will be there on the courts and fields and pools of play when the torch is lit.
No athlete is guaranteed a spot; some teams are though. In sports like football and basketball, the home teams gets a pass, most likely a decision made long ago to help boost attendance in bigger stadiums and arenas.
So the men and women of Brazil have enjoyed the luxury of knowing that they will take the court when the wheelchair basketball competition tips off in September 2016 since the games were first awarded to their country in 2009. As in London, there are slots for 12 men’s and 10 women’s teams in Brazil.
With nothing to lose, that takes all the pressure off the Brazilians as they play their first games against Puerto Rico and Mexico respectively tomorrow morning in Toronto where the Parapan American Games will determine the first countries who will join them as the qualifier for the IWBF’s Americas Zone.
So here’s where the big story starts. The women will vie for three spots in Rio while the men must fight for two, one less than in 2012. That’s the result of only one Americas Zone team, the USA in second place, finished in the top seven at last year’s IWBF World Championships in Incheon, Korea where the slots for each of the four zones are earned.
It was the USA against Canada in the gold medal game at the 2011 Parapan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Janet McLachlan is back for Canada while American stalwarts Alana Nichols has moved to kayak and Andrea Woodson Smith has retired from the national team. Photo courtesy of Wheelchair Basketball Canada.
There are 18 countries in Americas zone but only eight teams in each tournament. The women's side are highlighted by World Champions Canada and the USA who finished fourth with Paralympic hosts Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Columbia, and Venezuela.
The men's side is led by World Championship silver medalists USA and Parapan hosts Canada, along with Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru. Conspicuous by their absence is Colombia which had been a team on the rise.
Canada's men whose consistency of success had made them part of the furniture at Paralympic competitions have made it a harder task because they not only didn’t finish in the top seven at the World’s, they didn’t even qualify for the first and only time in their history. Colombia finished 10th, Argentina 12th and Mexico 14th. So the Americas men have only two slots rather than three to play for.
Only winning a semifinal will make all the work of the past four years worthwhile.
Winning the tournament is still the first class ticket for both the men and women with silver and bronze still finding passage for the women. On the men’s side, bronze is a consolation prize. Thanks, but no thanks. Watch it on TV.
The basketball competition will be streamed live on the IPC website along with athletics, swimming, and wheelchair rugby.
From Toronto, the action will move to Worcester, England from August 28 to September 6 for the IWBF Europe Qualifier, the 2015 European Wheelchair Basketball Championships. The IWBF Asia Oceania Qualifier is next in Chiba, Japan from October 7-18 with the final teams selected at the IWBF Africa Qualifier in Algiers, Algeria from October 30 to November 8. It will mark the first time for a women’s competition in the Africa Zone.
So let the drama begin. And, as they like to say down in New Orleans, "Laissez les bons temps rouler!"
Let the good times roll!
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