The Australian Rollers have secured their spot in the 2024 Paris Paralympics with a nail-biting 53-51 victory over Iran in the final of the Asia Oceania Zone Championships on Saturday night.
Trailing by just one point with less than a minute left, MVP Bill Latham came through with the equaliser on the free-throw line. O'Neill-Thorne sealed the deal with another crucial free throw to ice the cake for the Aussies.
Heading to his fourth Paralympics, Latham said he is proud of how the team has worked as a unit to achieve their goal of getting to Paris.
“It’s a great honour to get the MVP award at this tournament, especially with the talented group that we have. There are a couple of guys in the team that could have easily won it.
“We came here to do one thing, and that was to get us tickets to Paris. We got the job done together, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Head Coach Brad Ness said it was a huge privilege to be trusted with getting the Rollers to Paris.
"I’m feeling good now; I actually couldn’t speak to anyone after the game because I was a bit emotional, and I couldn’t let the boys see me shed any tears," he joked.
“It’s just relief more than anything. I’m so honoured and super proud of everything we’ve achieved. Each game was tough, and we came away with some really close wins, but the boys never went away from the process that we had in place to win.
"They came up with a motto: 'Why not us?' We've defeated the silver medalists from Tokyo 2020 (Japan), and we've just beaten the third-best team from Worlds (Iran), not once, but twice. So, I wholeheartedly believe it – why can't it be us?
"We'll head home and plan out the next six months, continue working hard, and then head to Paris with the firm belief that we can be number one in the world.”
The Rollers are set to join the ranks of Great Britain, Spain, and the USA, having all secured their spots for the 2024 Paris Paralympics. The remaining four positions will be determined in a repechage event in France scheduled for April.
Meanwhile, the Australian Gliders kept their Paralympic dream alive by clinching bronze in a five-point victory over Thailand.
Their next challenge awaits in Osaka, Japan, where they will compete in Pool A of the repechage against Algeria, Germany, and Thailand. Pool B comprises Spain, France, Canada, and Japan. The Gliders must secure a top-four finish to join the Rollers in Paris.