Hamburg 2018: "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead"
Steve Goldberg's Wheel World
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Hamburg 2018: "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead"

HAMBURG (Steve Goldberg's Wheel World) - Airport security will be seeing a lot of medals go through the scanners when Great Britain flies home from the IWBF Wheelchair Basketball World Championships here in Hamburg.

After getting both men's and women's teams to the semifinals of a major tournament for the first time, Great Britain one-upped that, with both sides scoring comprehensive wins, guaranteeing the bling for all 24 athletes.

Before the color of those medals is decided, I'll say now that the question I posited previously in this space on whether Britain could be great in these world championships has been answered regardless of the outcome in the women's final against the Netherlands on Saturday and the men's penultimate match on Sunday against traditional nemesis since 1776, the USA.

Paired together in Group B, the USA won the first encounter 66-59 in the second match of the event for both teams, their closest game of the tournament so far.

The GB men make their first world championship final since 2002, where they finished second to the USA, the same result as in 1994. Great Britain won the very first, and their only, world championship contested in 1973 over France.

What kind of hugs will the GB women be sharing on Saturday night?  (Photo by Steve Goldberg/SCS Media)

It's the first-ever final for the women who will get a rematch as well against the tournament favorite Netherlands, who like the American men are undefeated in Hamburg. That ended 66-41 with a dominant second half performance from the Dutch.

The women's bronze medal game will see Germany face China. The men's third place game will be Australia versus Iran on Sunday.

Germany-Great Britain women

One milestone after another. It seems like only yesterday that Great Britain women's team coach Miles Thompson was telling me how big their quarterfinal win over the USA was. Wait a second, it was. But that memory, as sweet as it could be, will now be second to the one that guaranteed them their first ever global tournament medal.

Taking on the game like they had nothing to lose, they played like winners until they were just that, defeating the favored and home team Germany 60-37, with the best performance this team has had.

Only four of them, that was a fair fight for Helen Freeman in the semifinal. (Photo by Steve Goldberg/SCS Media)

There was nothing Helen Freeman could not do on the day, teleporting herself past defenders at will, launching shots from the wings, from the top, down the lane.

The numbers are legendary: 31 points on 57.7 percent shooting with 12 rebounds and 9 assists. The court was her domain, the ball at her beck and call.  Amy Conroy was solid as well with 12 points on 60 percent from the field. As a team, they hit 54.7 percent while holding the Germans to just 32.7 percent.

Perhaps more important than their offensive consistency was GB's commitment to a high-pressure defense.

"GB played a phenomenal game," said German star Mareike Miller. "They came out ready and wanted it so much. We fought to play with them but we didn't come out with the same energy."

As much as he, assistant coach Dan Price and the GB staff had worked to get them to this point, coach Miles Thompson admitted he was a bit speechless about the performance he had witnessed.

But that makes for a poor interview so I pressed him with the relentlessness that his team had just shown.

"We ran our 'Five' so good yesterday (against the USA) which is our full-court pressure," he said but he and Price weren't sure if that would be too dangerous against a much more mature and accomplished Germany. "I slept on it and I woke up at 5am this morning and said 'Damn the torpedoes. Let's play the Five against these players too."

"It was awesome."

The full text of that famous quote from a Union naval officer during the American Civil War is "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."

He added that it wasn't an unmeasured approach. "It's a team we're comfortable with. We've played them so many times. Four times in the last month, trying different things. You try those things to get to this moment."

How far had they come to get to this moment?

"We had a nine-game losing streak that ended about three weeks ago and for us to be where we're at after losing mine in a row is unbelievable." Miles Thompson


Great Britain – Iran men

The GB men were next up against Iran trying to focus on their own game while unable to ignore what their countrywomen were doing on the court.

"It was inspirational," Gregg Warburton (top photo) told me when I asked if it was a distraction to their own preparation. "We had a great chance to watch the last few minutes and they were just having fun out there. It helped us. It's fantastic. Before starting our warmup, we said that we need to do that as well."

Iran had been a surprise team of the tournament, winning their group, beating Canada along the way. As hard as they fought, they had surprised themselves as well with the unexpected success and wouldn't let a lopsided 86-63 loss to Great Britain mar the journey. The tears were a mixture of pride in what they had done and what might have been.

Omid Hadiazhar once again showed the promise Iran has for the future with a 20 point, 11 rebound, 6 assist game. His junior national teammate Mohammdahassan Sayari added 10, while the two veteran Mortezas, Ebrahimi and Abedi, scored 13 and 12 respectively.

Morteza Abedi of Iran (Photo by Steve Goldberg/SCS Media)

This Iranian team proved that they are and will be a force to be reckoned with, adding defense and endurance to court speed that proved formidable to more than one accomplished opponent in this tournament.

Warburton continues to show his growth in the game with a game leading 22 points with George Bates hitting for 21.

USA – Australia men

This was a heavyweight tilt between the 2014 World Champions Australia and the 2016 Paralympic gold medalists USA. It was all Aussie to start with a 6-0 run where the USA started by missing their first six attempts and turning the ball over.

Defense is the difference for the USA. (Photo by Steve Goldberg/SCS Media)

But no game is won or lost in the first minutes and the Americans came back. The game was last tied at 15 before the USA scored the next 10 straight before the Rollers responded. It stayed within range for Australia, down 10 at the half. It would not get closer than 9 the rest of the way with the USA realizing their highest scoring quarter of the game with 27 points in the fourth to win it 84-59.

He shoots, he scores. Jake Williams of the USA. (Photo by Steve Goldberg/SCS Media)

The scoring was a bit more unbalanced for the Americans in this one with Jake Williams topping the numbers with 29 points while Steve Serio had 17 and Jared Arambula 10. Shaun Norris led Australia with 14 points.


Netherlands – China women

While its been consensus that the Oranje Angels have been the favorites to win their first major gold medal, China is a focused and detailed team that can disrupt the best of squads on the day.

This was not going to be that day. Holland jumped out quickly, leading 16-4 after ten minutes, and 27-13 by the half.  A 10-0 run started the second half and there was no coming back for China.

The Great Wall of Holland. (Photo by Steve Goldberg/SCS Media)

Bo Kramer (16 points, 16 rebounds) and Mariska Beijer (16, 10) both had double doubles and are lethal weapons but what makes them great is the full team effort that comes from less heralded Jitske Visser, Carina de Rooij and other teammates.

Final score 54-29.

So, will it be the Netherlands and USA as expected, or a possible double from the Dukes and Duchesses of GB? 

Men's schedule, scores and game reports   

Women's schedule, scores and game reports

Tournament website 

IWBF website

Live streaming 

Game reports in German

Steve Goldberg


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Steve Goldberg

Steve Goldberg

Eight years after first getting a glimpse of wheelchair basketball at the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul when covering the Olympics for UPI, Steve Goldberg got the chance to really understand the game as Chief Press Officer for the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta. He's been a follower of the sport ever since. Over the years, the North Carolina-born and bred Tar Heel fan - but University of Georgia grad - has written on business, the economy, sports, and people for media including Time, USA Today, New York magazine, Reuters, Universal Sports, TNT, ESPN, New York Daily News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and The Olympian. Steve Goldberg's Wheel World will look at the past, present and future of wheelchair basketball.