"Very spectacular, almost unbelievable at times"

Nicolas Hausammann (24) is Captain of the "Pilatus Dragons". At the end of April 2005, this wheelchair basketball team were the surprise winners of the European Cup in Lodz (Poland), following on from their victory at the Swiss championships.

Congratulations on your European Cup win! Tell us about your experience at the competition in Lodz (Poland).

Unfortunately the atmosphere wasn't quite as electric as at the qualifying round in Turkey where around 1000 spectators were there to cheer us on. But it still felt a bit like a dream. A magical momentum developed from the second game onwards. Everyone in the team was living just for this moment, which also explains why we won. I have always dreamed of achieving the seemingly impossible thanks to this kind of team spirit. It usually only happens in films!

The Dragons surpassed themselves in the competition. How does a team do that? Where do you get your team spirit from?

We are a tightly-knit bunch from very different backgrounds and of different ages. What brings us together is our love and passion for the game. Everyone knows their own abilities and no-one tries to push themself forward in any way. We have a lot of fun on the field, which of course helps us to cope with nerves and external pressure. Of course, we mustn't forget our coach who inspires us with his enthusiasm for basketball and is with us wholeheartedly in our matches.

How did winning the title effect the team? Did it help you to raise awareness of this new sport?

I think that it helped to bond us even closer as a team. There was huge media coverage. Suddenly newspapers and local radio and TV stations were contacting us to do major features. I hope that we can hang onto this status over the summer break to make sure we fill the halls, and not just for the finals.

You play as Number 8. Does this have any special significance?

Unfortunately, only the numbers 4-15 are allowed in Switzerland. Otherwise I would play 32, like Magic Johnson, my great role model. The number eight has no special significance.

How did you first discover wheelchair basketball?

I first found out about wheelchair basketball during my rehabilitation period in Balgrist. After this, I had a great instructor at the gym who let me join in with sports. He was a basketball coach and taught me all the basics of the sport. When I felt I was good enough, aged 17, I asked RC Uster whether they needed a new player. After four years at RCU, I received an offer from the Pilatus Dragons, the team I play for now.

What is the great attraction of wheelchair basketball?

It's the fastest disabled team sport there is. It is full of creativity and can be very spectacular, almost unbelievable at times. You can't make as many quick turns and rotations on a hard surface in the basketball chair as in the able-bodied sport, so you need to focus on the direction and wait for the right moment to pass the ball or throw it in the net. The reason I'm going into such raptures about it is that I received the latest wheelchair model from our sponsors Meyra yesterday. It moves like a dream.

Your team includes two people who can walk, one male and one female player. Does this ever give rise to any debate?

No, not at all. They load up the team bus, so we let them play! (laughs) No, seriously, able-bodied players are important for wheelchair basketball. Only they can sit safely on the high center chair and this makes the sport more varied and attractive. However, at an international level, players who can walk must have a minimum level of disability, i.e. at least grade 3 cartilage damage. Because there aren't so many of these or of amputee players, at national level non-disabled players are also allowed to play. It's all very well regulated by the classification system to make sure it doesn't suddenly become a non-disability sport. A paraplegic counts as one point, someone who can walk 4.5 points, the points are added together and the total for the five players on the field can't come to more than 14.5.

Interview: Dominik Feusi
Photo: Pilatus Dragons

Nicolas Hausammann posing in his basketball wheelchair (photo: Pilatus Dragons)
Nicolas Hausammann posing in his basketball wheelchair (photo: Pilatus Dragons)