The 11th edition of The World Games held in Birmingham, Alabama can justifiably lay claim to be the best edition of the multi-sport celebration ever held. Journalist Brian Salmon has listed his view on the 10 best teams at the Games he describes "best so far": "An unprecedented three-quarters of the nations competing enjoyed podium success, and multiple competitors rewrote the history books with astonishing performances. I would go so far as to claim that the American city was privileged to see the greatest collection of athletes ever assembled for any edition of The World Games. There were exceptional performances in virtually every sport that featured on the programme. As we begin our review of the many fine efforts we saw in Birmingham, I shall start with what I believe to be the 10 best teams competing during the summer at the Comeback Games."
10 Fistball- Germany Women
The German women are fortunate to make this list, having not played as well as their male compatriots in the gold medal game. This team, however, showed the greatest mental resilience in becoming champions. In the final, the Germans gave up the first two sets to Switzerland, and the gold medal looked an improbable dream. However they improved, winning the next two sets comfortably. In the fifth set, they squandered two set points before sealing it. In the sixth and decisive set, they had to survive set point, but a late scoring burst saw them seal a thrilling victory.
9 Beach Handball- Croatia Men
Just as in the recently concluded FIFA World Cup, Croatia were defeated by Argentina; fortunately for the Adriatic nation this match was in the group stage after they had already qualified for the semi-finals. Just as in the FIFA tournament, Croatia proved the masters of the penalty shoot-out, using this method to win both their semi-final against USA and the gold medal match versus Qatar. Also just as in the World Cup, there was an unexpectedly early exit for the powerhouse of the sport, Brazil, who up until Birmingham had been the only team ever to win the gold medal.
8 Archery Compound Mixed Team- Colombia
There was also shoot-out drama in the final of the Mixed Archery competition, which featured two of the best compound archers in the world: Sara Lopez from Colombia and Mike Schloesser from The Netherlands. The first end was tied; in the second Colombia were leading by a point. In the third end it was now The Netherlands in front by the same margin. In the deciding fourth end, it all came down to the last arrow from each archer. Lopez and team-mate Daniel Munoz needed to score 10s to have a chance of the gold medal. They composed themselves, fired, and boom, the arrows had hit the centre. Schloesser, who has with his unwavering accuracy earned himself the nickname “Mr. Perfect”, needed a 10 to win; surely gold for The Netherlands beckoned. Surprisingly, the Dutchman did not live up to his moniker; the arrow finished the wrong side of the centre line and it was only a 9, leading to a two-arrow shoot-out: unexpected drama! The Colombians fired their arrows straight and true as did Schloesser, but Jody Becker’s aim was fractionally out. A pulsating match thus went the way of the South Americans, and led to Sara Lopez becoming the most successful archer ever in terms of medals at The World Games.
7 Korfball- The Netherlands
There was Dutch success, however, in the Korfball final. Prior to Birmingham, Korfball had featured eight times at The World Games. On each occasion the Dutch team had emerged triumphant; would 2022 see a new nation be crowned as champions? Of course not! In the most predictable medal match of the Games, The Netherlands once again emerged clutching the golden souvenirs. In a ranking of the best sides, a team which has remained unbeaten in nine editions should be ranked as Number 1. Until a genuine contender arises to challenge the might of the Dutch, however, they will have to be satisfied with a mid-table position.
6 Tug of War- Women 540kg- Chinese Taipei
Another team that has never tasted defeat at The World Games are the female Chinese Taipei pullers. The women’s discipline has been on the sports programme since the 2005 edition. During a typical competition, they will take the rope in 7 or 8 matches of a minimum three pulls against quality opposition. Impressively, in all five editions the women’s medal has been contested, Chinese Taipei have never lost even a single pull. As second greatest athlete of all time James Kehoe noted, “the athletes may change, but the coach always gets the results.” Every pull is synchronised teamwork at its finest, with a relentless, inevitable march to the line.
5 Canoe Polo- Women- France
Duisburg 2005 was THE edition of The World Games for the introduction of dominant women’s teams; not only did Chinese Taipei display their talent with a rope, it was the first time we saw the brilliance of the German Canoe Polo team. Boasting a near flawless record (apart from an unexpected Final loss to Great Britain in 2009), in Birmingham the powerful German women’s team once again contested the gold medal game. However, in the shock result of the Games, a Camille Meyer inspired French side scored three unanswered second-half goals. A measure of the French achievement was that a few weeks later, the Germans got an extra-time winner against the same opposition to claim their seventh World Championship.
4 DanceSport- Latin- Moldova
Although there was a big surprise in the Canoe Polo pool, it was business as usual for the Moldovan superstars Anna Matus and Gabriele Goffredo. Moldova have only ever sent DanceSport athletes to The World Games, but what a team to send! Matus and Goffredo were at their shimmying, effervescent best as they once again dazzled the judges into awarding them the gold medal for the third consecutive time, and making the Moldovan team the most successful DanceSport athletes of all time.
3 Lacrosse- Men- Canada
There are dominant performances in a gold medal match and then there are the Canadians. The stands were packed with noisy American fans hoping to cheer on their team to glory against their great Northern rivals. Sadly, the cheers faded away quickly as the speedy and accurate Canadians bludgeoned their way to the top podium step with an outstanding 23-9 victory. What made it even more impressive was that this was the first time the new Lacrosse Sixes format had been used in a major final; clearly the Canadian team were fast learners!
2 Softball- USA
Disappointment for USA that evening in one of the top medal games, but American euphoria a few nights later with gold in the sport that mattered most to the local fans. A dream ending, one that could easily become inspiration for Hollywood scriptwriters. Local girl Haylie McCleney, born, raised and educated in the Greater Birmingham area, returns to the same Baseball stadium that inspired her to take up Softball. Inevitably the opponents are long-time rivals and Olympic champions, Japan! McCleney had starred in the Tokyo Olympics, scoring the most runs of any athlete and being named the Most Valuable Player at the Games, feats she would go on to repeat in her home city! However in the Olympics gold medal match, Japan pitched brilliantly to shut out the powerful American hitters, who had minimal chances to score.
Japan had triumphed at their home Games on their own turf, and in July the roles were reversed with the Americans on hosting duties. Would they triumph and get revenge for the Olympic Final, or would Japan dominate again and gain the right to be called World Champions? Unlike Tokyo, the American batters started confidently and in the second innings had three bases filled. At this point in the movie, you would have the American team encouraging next batter Janae Jefferson, who then walks determinedly to the plate. She adjusts her equipment and looks the pitcher firmly in the eye. The pitcher returns her stare and starts her throwing motion, Jefferson swings and connects! The camera follows the ball in slow motion as it make its way past the outfielders to the backfield and then shows the fans cheering and celebrating as all three runners come in to score! What a start, USA! However, Japan compose themselves and get two scores of their own. There is late drama as Japan fill the bases. If they connect, then the gold medal will be theirs! Fortunately the American pitchers get the danger batters out, it is mission accomplished, gold and World Champions USA! The movie would then close with McCleney being embraced by her family, friends and the coach who had set her on the path to greatness all those years ago!
1 Flag Football- Women- Mexico
So many exceptional teams competing at the Birmingham edition of The World Games: which side is ranked the best of them all? It may seem surprising that the honour goes to the Mexican Flag Footballers, but the award is thoroughly deserved. A side that had the competition's meanest defence was always going to go far; Japan were the only team to score two touchdowns against them. Add in the brilliance of superstar quarterback Diana Flores, and the gold medal was guaranteed. She unerringly finds her receivers and is quick enough to scramble for her own touchdowns. The gold medal game against USA was typically high scoring, finishing 39-6, with the Mexicans blowing out their final opponents as easily as the other five teams they had faced. The World Games is about encouraging excellence in sporting competition, and in Birmingham, the Mexicans demonstrated with every dominating performance that they are simply the best.
Which team was your favourite at The World Games 2022? Cast your vote now in The World Games Team of the Year poll!
Brian Salmon for The World Games
The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association, organised with the support of the International Olympic Committee. The World Games 2022 was held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 7-17 July 2022. 3,600 athletes from 34 sports and 100 countries took part in the Games. The 12th edition of The World Games will be held in Chengdu, CHN in 2025.