Amanda Dennis competes during the women's Goalball semifinal at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 29, 2021 in Chiba, Japan.
It’s not out of the ordinary for a kid just out of high school to want to travel to Europe during the summer.
It’s less common that their itinerary includes playing in one of the world’s biggest sporting events.
Such was the case for U.S. goalball player Amanda Dennis, who traveled to the Paralympic Games London 2012 before she started college at the University of Georgia. She then celebrated her degree in sports management four years later with a trip to Rio de Janeiro.
After reaching the quarterfinals in London, Dennis and her teammates won the bronze medal in Rio and upgraded that to silver last week in Tokyo. In the Americans’ run to the final match against Turkey, Dennis was having an exceptional tournament, the third leading scorer overall with 13 goals and two penalty goals in six games. A serious injury that she played through in the semifinal, however, would keep her from playing in the gold-medal game.
“Not playing in the final was one of the hardest decisions that had to be made,” she said. “I did everything I could do before that game to be able to try to play, but it wouldn’t have benefitted my team or me to fight something that could have been disastrous both short and long term.”
Dennis could have been a key contributor in the gold-medal match. Team USA had already defeated Turkey 4-3 in the final match of the preliminary round, Turkey’s lone loss of a tournament in which it steamrolled all other opposition by a collective 27-7 margin. The Americans twice had to come back from two-goal deficits in that early meeting. Dennis scored a penalty shot goal 10 seconds into the second half to draw even and scored the winner with 2:15 to play. She finished with a game-high 46 blocks.
In the six games leading to the final, Dennis led the team with 181 blocks. She intercepted 42 in the semifinal against China. So, missing the final was an extremely tough call to make.
“A lot of mixed emotions about not playing in the final,” she said, “I know at full strength we are fully capable of earning the gold — but I think we’re ultimately very proud of our silver and everything we accomplished in Tokyo.”
Goalball, a sport for the visually impaired where all athletes wear blackout goggles to ensure equity, is essentially the opposite of dodgeball. Three players on each end of the court take turns hurling a nearly three-pound, bell-laden ball towards goals spanning the width of the court. Players must track the ball using only the sound of its bells while throwing their bodies in harm’s way to stop it.
The game has been on the Paralympic program since 1976 for men and 1984 for women. In 10 Paralympic Games, the U.S. women have medaled seven times, the most of any country. The team was seeking its first gold medal since 2008, but the Tokyo silver medal is its best performance in the years since.