U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Jorge Salazar wins the tip off of the gold medal match of the wheelchair basketball competition, winning a gold medal for the United States Team at the 2016 Invictus Games. Salazar is one of 113 Active Duty and Veteran athletes representing the US team during the Invictus Games in Orlando, FL, May 8-12. Invictus Games, an international adaptive sports tournament for wounded, ill and injured service members and Veterans, features about 500 military athletes from 14 countries competing in archery, cycling, indoor rowing, powerlifting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair racing, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis. The US team includes active duty and veteran athletes from all U.S. military services and the Special Operations Command. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jason Edwards/ Released)
US Dominant in Winning Gold Medal in Wheelchair Basketball
The focus of the Invictus Games Orlando 2016 shifted to the atmospheric HP Field House in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for the eagerly anticipated Wheelchair Basketball final between the US and UK to decide the final gold medal of the Games.
The battle between the US and UK came down to this final, and a real buzz of excitement surrounded the showdown, with basketball looming large in the sporting history and culture of both nations.
The US had some unfinished business to settle following a surprise loss to the UK at the inaugural Invictus Games in London nearly two years ago.
“Its been built up as a bit of a grudge match,” U.K. captain Simon Gibbs said before this afternoon’s final got underway.
“We want a good final for the spectators and to play in,” he said.
“They are always the ones you want to be in as a sportsman,” the UK captain said shortly after the UK had defeated Denmark earlier in the day to set up the dream rematch final with the U.S.
Hopes of a close encounter were high amongst supporters and the venue was close to fever pitch as the teams made their long awaited entrance.
The US settled into the match more quickly despite a somewhat nervous and intense opening few minutes of close checking play in which the two captains – Simon Gibbs for the UK and Anthony McDaniel for the US, were dominant for their sides.
McDaniel, who lost both his legs an IED attack in Afghanistan, was as elusive as quicksilver, threading his way around the court and breaking down the UK’s lines of defense as he scored almost at will. He was poetry in motion in his wheelchair twisting and turning around opponents and as he set the pace and pattern for the match.
With more teammates following and supporting McDaniel, the scores blew out to a 30-9 lead at one stage and it was clear that the US was in it to win it.
The UK however made the US fight hard, pressing and pressuring at all times but couldn’t make up the difference in the widening score line.
In the end, the US won handsomely with a score of 48-16, turning the tables on its 9-19 loss to the UK at the original Invictus Games London in 2014.
Speaking after the match, Prince Harry congratulated the US and all teams involved in the Games this week.
“Thank you so much for making unforgettable memories for everyone, for every single competitor,” he said.
Prince Harry said it was only appropriate that in their home turf, the US should take home the majority of medals.
He also said the Games were more than about winning medals, and more about sharing experiences and “literally watching lives change in here (the Field House venue for the Invictus Basketball final), and outside in the pool …we’ve witnessed it.”
The Invictus Games have highlighted the power of sport in the journey to recovery for servicemen and women by focusing attention on achievements and participation in sporting events despite crippling injuries and illnesses.
“Prince Harry is absolutely right. Even if we didn’t win medals, I believe everybody who participated in this match and in the Games is a winner, just to be part of this,” said McDaniel.
Simon Gibbs, the UK wheelchair basketball captain said, “Everyone’s achieved something this week; something amazing this week. Guys who have not been so good in the past, now are coming out and doing this in front of these kinds of crowds. We fought to the end and we showed our British bulldog spirit.”
Earlier, Denmark defeated the Netherlands to win bronze in the Wheelchair Basketball competition.
Netherlands vs Denmark
The play-off for the Bronze medal took place between Denmark and Netherlands at the HP Field House this afternoon. The Danes took control of the match in the first half with Captain Maurice Manuel continuing his awesome streak from his team’s match against the UK in the semifinal. The Dutch put forward a valiant effort with some excellent runs of play, but overall the Danes were the superiors with accurate shooting from Jakob Larsen and stunning attacking performance from Manuel en route to a 20 – 9 victory. We caught up with Denmark team Captain Manuel who described his elation at the win:
“We had to work all the way through that match, we’ve been taking a beating in basketball over the last couple of days and it all came together today all in one match.”
He went on to tell us the magic of this sporting event:
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to be here, words can’t describe what it means, this the culmination of a long process and it all came together. This [win] is for physical disabilities, it’s for proving to the world and ourselves that we can. Its also for individuals with PTS to show they can and in situations like this they more than capable of rising to the occasion, every single athlete here has risen to the occasion, there is no doubt about that.”