Canada’s wheelchair basketball team golden again

September 9, 2012, 2:31 AM

THE CANADIAN PRESS

LONDON — Canada returned to the top of the podium in wheelchair basketball at the Paralympic Games and Robbi Weldon also won gold in road cycling Saturday.

Patrick Anderson of Fergus, Ont., led the basketball team with 34 points in a 64-58 win over Australia. Canada avenged losing the gold-medal game to the Aussies in 2008 after winning Paralympic titles in both 2000 and 2004.

"It feels like the first medal I’ve ever won somehow," Anderson said. "I’m not sure exactly why just yet.

"We were challenged by a really great team and meeting that challenge was awesome."

The wheelchair rugby squad also plays for gold just prior to Sunday’s closing ceremonies. Canada edged defending champion U.S. 50-49 in Saturday’s semifinal and takes on Australia for the championship.

With two gold medals and a swimming bronze from Amber Thomas of Drayton Valley, Alta., on Saturday, Canada reached 30 medals — seven gold, 14 silver and nine bronze.

The Canadian team’s objective in London is to finish in the top eight countries in the gold-medal count. With one day of competition remaining, Canada was tied for 19th.

The basketball team trailed the Australia by one point after the first and second quarters, but surged ahead in the third by distributing the ball quickly to spread the defence wide.

Anderson, Dave Durepos of Fredericton, Winnipeg’s Joey Johnson and Richard Peter of Duncan, B.C., played in their fourth Paralympics in London. They’ve been key drivers in Canada’s success in wheelchair basketball so far this century.

"Three gold medals and one silver over four Paralympics, I would say that’s a dynasty," Canadian coach Jerry Tonello said.

Durepos, the oldest player on the team at 44, said he played his final game for Canada on Saturday.

"What a way to go out," Durepos said. "On top of the world."

The Canadians went 8-0 through the tournament. Anderson led all players with 200 points.

The 33-year-old came out of retirement after Beijing to play for Canada again in London. Anderson married Anna Paddock last year and wants to finish his music degree at New York City’s Hunter College this winter.

Unlike Durepos, Anderson wasn’t saying if he would retire again following these Games.

"Did I say this is going to be it? I don’t know that it is," he said. "If it is, it’s a nice way to go out."

"I’ve been on the national team since I was 17 and been to four Games. That’s a lot. I’m old in basketball years, but I’m young in music years."

Weldon of Thunder Bay, Ont., and pilot Lyne Bessette of Knowlton, Que., were first in the women’s road race in a visually impaired classification. They bounced back from a disappointing fourth in the time trial earlier in the Games.

"Lyne and I are thrilled about this golden performance," Weldon said. "It’s good to end on a golden note. We’re going to enjoy it. We had a fantastic race."

Weldon has Stargardt’s disease, which is a condition of macular degeneration, and has six per cent vision. Bessette, a two-time Olympic cyclist for Canada, navigates their tandem bike from the front with Weldon powering it from the back.

The Canadians covered the hilly, 80-kilometre course at Brands Hatch in a time of two hours eight minutes 26 seconds. They beat runner-up Josefa Guzman Benitez and her guide Maria Noriega by 33 seconds.

"It was on the long climb on the back, we were able to pull ahead and make an attack there with about 7K to go," Weldon said.

Weldon is a two-sport Paralympian. She cross-country skied for Canada at the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., with results of fifth in the 15k and sixth in the 5k.

Canada’s win over the U.S. in wheelchair rugby was the team’s most significant against their archrival since beating them in the Paralympic Games semifinal in 2004.

That game was featured in the documentary "Murderball," which was nominated for an Academy Award the following year.

"We’re going for the gold and they’re not," Canadian co-captain David Willsie said. "Does it get bigger than that? I don’t know."

The Canadians took control of Saturday’s semifinal early by outscoring the defending champions 16-9 in the first quarter. But the U.S. chipped away at the lead and tied the game for the first time with one minute 46 seconds remaining.

With the clock running down, Garett Hickling and Mike Whitehead stole the ball and the U.S. had two defensive fouls trying to re-gain the ball. Hickling, Canada’s flagbearer in the opening ceremonies, scored with a second left.

"The guys played phenomenal. When the subs came in, they played phenomenal and it’s beyond words," Hickling said. "They looked nervous and we could feel that at the start.

"They’ve been number one for many years and they’re definitely still a strong team. Everyone wants to try to beat them. To do that is fantastic."

Thomas won bronze in the women’s 200-metre individual medley on the final day of swimming. The Canadian swim team finished with 16 medals – four gold, nine silver and three bronze.

"Our target was 15 podiums and we got 16, this is great," Canadian coach Craig McCord said. "I’m so proud of the team, they dealt with their schedules the way it rolled out whether their best events were early on or, as in the case for Amber, later in the meet."

In the women’s S11 200 IM for blind swimmers, Mary Fisher of New Zealand broke the world record clocking 2:46.91 for the gold medal. Daniela Schulte of Germany was second in 2:49.57 and Thomas followed in 2:59.00 for her second medal of the Games. She was second in Friday’s 400 freestyle.

"I’m excited about the medal," said Thomas, 18. "I was absolutely drained in the last 50 but I just kept going and going, pushing a little harder."

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