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Johnson adds third gold medal to collection

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If the London Paralympics prove to be his last, Joey Johnson will exit the international wheelchair basketball stage with no regrets.


The longtime member of the men’s national team won his third gold medal in five Paralympic Games when Canada defeated Australia 64-58 on Sept. 8.


Johnson had eight points, four rebounds and three assists in the gold-medal game.


"This definitely has got to rank near the top (of career accomplishments)," Johnson said. "To be the best in the world is pretty special. This team was a mix of newer guys to the program and older veterans."


Over the past 16 years, Johnson, 37, has had an up-close look at the way the Paralympics have grown and become an integral part of the Olympic movement.


"I think every Paralympic Games has its own special meaning or feeling," said Johnson, who made his debut in Atlanta in 1996, when Canada finished a disappointing fifth. "To think London could be my last games… it was very special. They put on a great show. London raised the bar. They set a standard that’s going to be tough to beat."


The victory in London was also made sweet because of the continued worldwide growth of wheelchair basketball. Johnson said at least eight teams entered the men’s competition with gold-medal hopes.


"In 2000, there were probably only four teams that realistically had a chance," he said.


Johnson, who lives with his wife and three children in Lorette, recently started a new sales job with Freedom Concepts, a Transcona-based company that makes adaptive bicycles for people with disabilities. With his work and family demands, Johnson thinks it’s unlikely he’ll be able to commit to another four years of high-performance training.


"I’m assuming I’m done," he said. "I’ve enjoyed coaching in the past, and it’s something I’ve considered. I wouldn’t rule it out for the future."


Johnson’s brother, Bill, coaches the national women’s team, which finished sixth in London.


If he did want to put his body through the grinder one more time, Johnson is confident he’d be able to contribute. Even though he’s no longer in his physical prime, his understanding of the game has continued to grow.


"I think I’m just exiting my prime now," he said. "I’m not at the same level as I was in 2004 or 2008. But experience makes up for a lot of that. It’s like a game of chess; you’re always thinking a few steps in advance. There aren’t too many scenarios that are foreign to me."


Unlike some members of the team, Johnson only uses a wheelchair when he’s on the court. He was diagnosed with a degenerative hip disease when he was eight years old that prevents him from competing in able-bodied sports.


His wheelchair basketball talents landed him a college scholarship at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and has taken him to Germany and Australia, where he played for professional clubs.

avi.saper@canstarnews.com

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