At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the six athletes will represent the United States in the sport of goalball: Jen Armbruster, Lisa Czechowski, Amanda Dennis, Asya Miller, Robin Theryoung and Jordan Walters. As the reigning champions from the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games and Guadalajara 2011 Parapan American Games, Team USA is favored for gold in women's goalball, which runs Aug. 30-Sept. 7.
Prepare to be a gold medal spectator with these 12 goalball facts:
GAME FOR THE VI
Goalball is the only sport in which only visually impaired people can participate. It was introduced as a demonstration event at the Toronto 1976 Paralympic Games, 30 years after being invented by Hanz Lorenzen (Austria) and Sepp Reindle (Germany). Like many Paralympic events, goalball was designed with the purpose to assist rehabilitation of World War II veterans. The sport’s first world championship was held in Austria in 1978 and became a full part of the Paralympic Games at the Arnehm 1980 Games. Today, the International Blind Sports Federation, responsible for fifteen sports for the blind and partially sighted in total, is the governing body for this sport.
Originally known as the Handball Arena, the venue for goalball at the London 2012 Paralympic Games was renamed Copper Box because, aside from handball, it will also host modern pentathlon (fencing and shooting) during the Olympic Games and will be the goalball venue for the Paralympic Games. Its new name reflects its look thanks to the top half of the venue being clad in 3,000 square meters of external copper cladding – mostly recycled – that will develop a rich natural color as it age. It will be the only permanent indoor arena retained in the Olympic Park, as the Basketball Arena will be relocated.
The aim is to score by rolling the ball at speed into the opposition’s goal, while the opposition attempts to block the ball with their bodies. Each team has 10 seconds to take a throw, and any team member may take it, but not more than twice before another team member must have a turn. Spectators must be quiet during play so that players can hear the ball (and each other), but they are free to cheer when a goal is scored. The team that scores the most goals is the winner. Matches last for two periods of 12 minutes each, but the clock stops every time the referee blows for an infringement and starts again when play restarts. Both the men’s and women’s tournaments begin with a round-robin group stage. The 12 men’s teams are divided into two groups of six teams, while the 10 women’s teams are divided into two groups of five. The top four teams in each group qualify for the quarter-finals, from which point the tournaments are played in a knockout format.
THE PLAYING FIELD
Goalball is played on an 18m x 9m court that is divided in half by a center line, with each half further divided into three sections by lines at 3 meter intervals. Each of the court lines are marked by tape and are slightly raised to allow players to orientate themselves. Goals extend across the full width of the court at either end and are 1.3m high. The ball itself weighs 1.25kg, has eight holes, and noise bells contained within.
In London, 132 competitors (72 men, 60 women) will compete in goalball, including six Americans in women's goalball. (The United States men's goalball team did not qualify for the Games.) Each country is limited to one men’s and one women’s team, with each team having six athletes. Three players per team compete at a time, with the rest substituting into play. Athletes with a varying degrees of visual impairment compete in goalball. However, all players must wear blackout eyeshades during competition to ensure a level playing field. With 132 competitors, that means 132 eyeshades.
Despite being the last team to qualify for the quarter-finals at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, the women’s U.S. team went on to beat China in the gold medal game, avenging a 4-0 loss from the round-robin stage.
In 2004, both Denmark and Canada successfully defended their 2000 gold medals by winning the men’s and women’s goalball gold medals, respectively.
Since goalball’s introduction in 1976, the U.S. has the most medals at nine while failing to medal only three times (1976, 1992 and 2000). Women goalball was introduced at the Stoke Mendeville/New York 1984 Paralympic Games with a U.S. women victory. In the seven Games since, the U.S. women have medaled four times.
There are three categories from which referees can call an infringement. If a player throws before the command to start has been given, if a player makes three consecutive throws or if a ball is thrown too high without touching the court between specific lines, a penalty will be assessed. A team penalty is awarded if a team delays the game, or makes unnecessary amounts of noise, or takes longer than 10 seconds to throw the ball. If a penalty is given, the guilty player must defend the entire court by himself for one throw.
SACRIFICE THE BODY
In goalball, the ball reaches speeds of 60 kilometers per hour – about 37 miles per hour. The only way to prevent the ball from crossing the goal line is for players to literally put their bodies on the line to stop the fast-moving ball.
Jennifer Armbruster is no newcomer to the international sports scene, as London will be her sixth Paralympic Games. At the 2008 Games, Armbruster, the Opening Ceremony flag bearer and goalball team captain, helped lead her team to the gold medal. Armbruster’s dreams of representing her country on the medal podium have been met three times: bronze in 1996, silver in 2004 and gold in 2008.
WHAT DOESN’T SHE DO?
Asya Miller is preparing for her fourth Paralympic Games. Miller’s crushing offense will be key to Team USA’s chances at a second Paralympic Games championship. Her athletic talents have brought her success in other sports on and off the Paralympic stage. The 2005 Athletes with Disabilties Hall of Fame (ADHOF) Female Athlete of the Year also has a bronze medal from the 2000 Paralympic discus competition as well as a gold medal for best lifter from the 2009 ISBA Powerlifting World Championships.