Steve Serio celebrates winning the gold medal after the Men's Wheelchair Basketball Gold Medal match at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 on September 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The U.S. wheelchair basketball teams are coming off a historic performance at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, when both won a gold medal. The last time they did that was in 1988 in Seoul.
In addition, Rio 2016 marked the first time that Team USA swept all four Olympic and Paralympic basketball gold medals.
With the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 beginning next Tuesday and the wheelchair basketball competition starting up on Wednesday, competition will be tough for the teams to repeat, but both American squads have the potential to be back on the podium again.
Here’s a look at the U.S. programs and what they might expect in Tokyo.
The World’s Game
While the Americans have unequivocally dominated basketball on the Olympic side, wheelchair basketball has been more evenly balanced since it began as a rehabilitation sport for soldiers after World War II. Six different men’s teams and five women’s teams have won Paralympic gold medals — compared to four men’s and two women’s teams in the Olympics.
However you count it, though, the U.S. is atop the list in wheelchair basketball is well.
Of the 17 Paralympic men’s tournaments since 1960, Team USA has won eight* — followed by Canada with three, and Australia and Israel with two each. Through 13 women’s tournaments, beginning in 1968, the Americans have four gold medals, followed by Canada and Germany with three apiece, and Israel with two.
Both American teams are also the all-time leaders in total Paralympic medals. The men have 13 (8 gold, 1 silver, 4 bronze), and the women have eight (4 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze). Not far behind are Great Britain and Israel on the men’s side, with eight and seven medals apiece, while Germany’s women have won seven.
In more recent years, the U.S. women have had more Paralympic success. The 2016 gold medal was the first for the U.S. men since the Seoul sweep of 1988. The American women also won gold in 2004 and 2008 being doing so agin in Rio.
* There were two divisions for men’s basketball in 1960 and 1964, with Team USA winning four gold medals in those two Games.
Doing It Again
With eight players returning from the Rio squad, the U.S. men have to be considered a favorite to top the podium again.
It won’t be easy though. In a stacked first-round group, the schedule calls for five games in five days. The big one is on day three, when the U.S. faces Great Britain in a rematch of the 2018 world championship final won by the Brits. But Team USA cannot overlook opening opponents Germany or Iran, which finished fourth at the world championships. It doesn’t get easier after GB, either, as the Americans wrap up against two-time Paralympic gold medalists Australia and then Algeria.
It will be a harder task for the women to repeat as they will be without reliable sharpshooter Becca Murray for the first time since 2008, as well as fellow stalwarts Desi Miller and Christina Schwab. (Fun fact: Schwab will be in Tokyo but as an assistant coach with the U.S. men.)
The U.S. women are in a group along with defending world champions the Netherlands, as well as Spain, China and Algeria.
Should they make it, the women’s medal round is set for Sept. 4 and the men’s for Sept. 5.