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A Look Back on the Road to Paris…1980 Arnhem Games

Posted April 4, 2024  Goalball

As the USA Goalball men’s team journeys along on the Road to Paris, during the month of April we’ll be taking a peek in the rearview mirror at past Paralympic Games where the U.S. men’s team reached the podium. We start with the 1980 Games in Arnhem, Holland.

The 6th Olympics for the Physically Disabled (later known as the Paralympic Games) took place June 21-July 5, 1980, in Arnhem, Holland. The event spawned from the annual Stoke Mandeville Games for the disabled, the brainchild of Sir Ludwig Guttmann who had established the world-famous Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville, England, during World War II.

The original Stoke Mandeville Games in 1952 gave impetus to the development of sports for people with other disabilities. Beginning in 1960, the annual Stoke Mandeville Games moved every fourth year to the country hosting the able-bodied Olympic Games. This signaled the start of the Olympics for the Physically Disabled – Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964, Tel Aviv 1968, Heidelberg 1972, Toronto 1976 and Arnhem 1980. Approximately 2,000 athletes from 42 countries competed in Arnhem, 500 more athletes than were in Toronto four years earlier. For the Netherlands the Games represented the largest international sports event since the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.

The USABA delegation at the 1980 Games was comprised of 50 athletes and 13 staff members. In addition to goalball, blind athletes competed in track and field, swimming, wrestling and pentathlon where athletes took part in five different events of track and field, swimming, archery and/or air-pistol shooting.

Goalball made its debut at the 1976 Games in Toronto, Canada, when amputee and blind athletes were invited to take part alongside paraplegic athletes for the first time. In 1976, the USA Goalball men’s team lost in the quarterfinals to Germany in 1976 by a score of 9-1.

The 1980 USA Goalball men's team poses with their silver medals alongside assistant coach Eugenie Kriebel in front of a goal.

The 1980 goalball tournament in Arnhem featured a 12-team round-robin format where each team played a game against the other 11 countries and the final standings were determined by the best overall record.

Head coach Stephen Kearney and assistant coach Eugenia Kriebel guided the U.S. team of John Bowman, Stephon Breedlove, Chuck Edwards, Steve Klein, Jim Mastro and James Neppl to a 7-2-2 record, good for 16 points and second only to Germany’s undefeated mark of 7-0-4, which earned them 18 points. Home country the Netherlands won the bronze medal with 14 points and a 5-2-4 record.

After opening the tournament with a 2-0 win over Finland, the U.S. played back-to-back 0-0 ties with Yugoslavia and Germany before losing to host Netherlands, 1-0. The team rebounded from that defeat in a big way by posting six straight shutout victories over Denmark (1-0), Egypt (3-0), Great Britain (1-0), Belgium (2-0), Israel (1-0) and Canada (3-0). Despite losing its final game to Austria, 1-0, the U.S. team managed to outscore its opponents by a 13-2 margin with Neppl finishing as the tournament’s top scorer with 11 goals.