Goalball buddies on the medal trail
TOKYO－After 16 years on the goalball court together, Chinese Paralympians Cai Changgui and Chen Liangliang say their bond goes beyond teammates or even friends. "We are family," said a smiling Cai at the Tokyo Paralympics.
The duo, who are both visually impaired, began their Tokyo 2020 campaign in the three-a-side team sport with a 10-3 defeat to Belgium. However, they have since bounced back and are now guaranteed at least a silver medal.
A day after that heavy opening loss, Cai and Chen combined for five goals as China beat Ukraine 7-3 to keep its chances of advancing from the group alive. Defeat to Turkey on Aug 28 left China bottom of the group and in danger of failing to reach the knockout stage.
"We played OK," Cai told Xinhua after that loss. "The young players have gained lots of experience.
"Nothing has changed for us. We just want to take each match as it comes and give the best we can."
With an 8-3 victory over Germany in its final preliminary match, China scraped through to the next phase on goal difference.
Since being called up to the national squad in 2005, Cai has become one of the most decorated goalball players in history. Together with Chen, who made his debut for China in 2002, Cai provided 32 blocks in the final at the Beijing Paralympic Games to help China win the title on home soil.
Cai is renowned for his solid defense, while Chen earns plaudits for his incisive offense. The latter can throw the ball from one end of the court to the other in a mere 0.3 seconds, and has earned the nickname the "Messi of goalball".
He scored twice in the final 30 seconds of the Beijing 2008 Games final to help the host grab gold.
"We may have an impairment but we are not lacking courage to deal with life," Chen said.
"I really enjoy playing goalball, for which I have sacrificed a lot but gained even more," Chen added. "Our team has encountered many kinds of difficulties, injuries and retirements. But I'm satisfied with what we have achieved so far."
China's medal quest continued with a 7-4 quarterfinal win over Japan on Tuesday and an 8-1 semifinal triumph over the United States on Thursday.
"No matter what happens, it has already been a rewarding episode of my career as an athlete after all these years," Chen said.