ParalympicsGB player-coach Choudhry leads team to basketball bronze

  • Gaz Choudhry praised after wheelchair basketball win over Spain
  • Krysten Coombs also claims bronze in the SH6 class badminton

On the final day of competition at the Tokyo Paralympics, there was time for one more British hero to take centre stage: Gaz Choudhry.

The 36-year-old came into the wheelchair basketball tournament as one of the key figures in the men’s team. On the eve of the Games he found himself having to assume an even greater responsibility, that of player-coach, when he became the last-minute replacement after full-time coach, Haj Bhania, tested positive for Covid just as he was set to leave for Japan.

With plans up in the air, preparations in disarray, and a whole wave of new expectations on his shoulders, Choudhry dug in. There was barely a match in Britain’s run to the semi-finals that didn’t involve them having to come from behind to win, and barely a quarter in which Choudhry didn’t step up to score his share of the points.

After the disappointment of defeat to the host nation Japan on Friday, it proved to be the case again on Sunday as Choudhry top-scored in Britain’s 68-58 victory over Spain to claim a second consecutive bronze medal in the competition.

Choudhry’s teammate Terry Bywater, who has competed at five Paralympics, led the tributes to the self-effacing player-coach after the match. “We can’t say enough about Gaz, the way he’s led this team and brought us together – the bond we have in this group is something really special,” Bywater said. “It’s fair to say this medal means a bit more after all that has happened. I was a bit worried about some of the guys but Gaz did any amazing job of picking up the team.”

Choudhry, meanwhile, deflected praise on to his team. “They deserve a gold,” he said. “This group absolutely deserves a gold. All we’ve done with this medal is validate this team to the outside but for us internally, we were validated already.

“It was the collective identity of this group [that got us through]. We’ve had so many knockbacks all summer. We relied on that experience of being resilient and being courageous.”

Great Britain’s Krysten Coombs soars during his match with Vitor Tavares
Great Britain’s Krysten Coombs soars during his match with Vitor Tavares. Photograph: Joe Toth for OIS/PA

There was one further medal for Britain to add to their total, when Krysten Coombs also claimed bronze in the SH6 class badminton, beating Vitor Tavares of Brazil. “The 14 years of competing have been for this,” Coombs said afterwards, with badminton having made its debut at the Games this year. “I think the experience, the journey I’ve come to now get to the top of the level, and compete at these Games and win a bronze medal, it’s a dream come true.”

Coombs has dwarfism and said he hoped his performances would inspire others with his condition to take up the sport. “It’s an awesome sport as you can see, and there’s so many opportunities with it as well. I’d like to think I can inspire other kids with dwarfism at home, that there is a journey and you can be successful with it.”

There was no medal for David Weir, however, whose return from retirement ended in a fifth-place finish in the marathon. Despite losing to his rival Marcel Hug for a third time during these Games, there was the consolation of a strong personal performance as Weir recorded his fastest marathon time in five years, 1:29:45. “It would be nice to have a beer and chill out now,” said the London 2012 hero as he signed off.

Contributor

Paul MacInnes in Tokyo

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