ParalympicsGB amazes the USA and wins gold for the first time in wheelchair rugby | Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
If this felt like a big, impactful moment, it was certainly appropriate. Wheelchair rugby, the sport of smashing and grabbing and sprinting and crashing, is a definite Paralympic event. It is a sport of danger and cunning and absolute granite determination. Great Britain is champions for the first time.
Led by Stuart Robinson, the former RAF rifleman who lost both legs to an IED in Afghanistan, and Jim Roberts who did wheelchair rugby during the three years he spent in hospital recovering from bacterial meningitis Great Britain beat the United States – the most successful nation in the history of the sport – with 54 tries out of 49 and led from start to finish.
Not that it was easy. The US team, led by the cunning Charles Aoki, steadily reduced a three-point gap in the first quarter to level the game in the final eight minutes. However, having relied on Roberts’ constant goal throughout, it was a triumphant last quarter for Robinson to secure victory. After a turnover that had resulted in the USA equalizing the score, Robinson dominated the game; he secured two turnover of his own and made eight attempts, including two superlative solo runs, to break the American mood.
“It’s still sinking,” said Robinson. He spoke after being the focus of some noisy post-game celebrations and also the center of a lot of international media attention, following a result that shook the international order in the sport formerly known as murderball. “The way we’ve been together as a cadre over the past four or five years has built on that.
“We worked so hard at home and away in training camps during the pandemic. We came back and put into practice everything we learned. We knew we were building something special and we came here, showed it all and got away with it as Paralympic champions. I think we knew the spirit within ourselves was here. One of the things we have on our screen as a team is “relentless”. We somehow showed that today by never giving up and going until the last buzzer. “
The dynamics of wheelchair rugby are similar to those of basketball with regular scores from one end to the other. Revenue is critical and the UK took first place with a score of 1: 1. With the ball in British hands, Roberts played a pivotal turn with Aaron Phipps, the team’s third key figure. At 7-5, Roberts was back to capture the ball and complete a second turnover. GB led 15-12 in the first break.
A hit on Robinson early in the second quarter brought sales back to the US, and that’s where Aoki began to make an impact. With the US sitting deep in defense and charging forward in groups as they attacked, Aoki was the player with a vision of making the moves or, alternatively, snaking their way into the keys to score themselves.
The festivities begin in the ParalympicsGB roster. Photo: Naomi Baker / Getty Images
An incredible Hail Mary-style attempt in the final seconds of the second quarter with Aoki converting brought the game to 26:24 in favor of GB at halftime. With the resumption of the USA game, the gap narrowed to one and further sales from Phipps gave the USA the chance to equalize at least one after the other. But at that pivotal point, at the point when the US gained momentum in that group stage encounter, Britain held out. Even a one-minute container of sins for Robinson did not allow the US to take the lead.
In the fourth, Robinson was knocked over and the result was 37-37. Then, perhaps auspiciously, the ball popped. A new one was thrown and Robinson came to life at the same time, firing America’s Joseph Delegrave for a deal before finding a way to meet Roberts, who then found Cowling for a crucial hit.
Wheelchair rugby is a sport that levels out many differences between competitors, with large differences in the degree of disability between players on the same team. It’s also open to mixed gender selection, with UK-based Kylie Grimes becoming the first woman to win gold in the competition on Sunday.
“I would like to see more women in my sport,” she said. “Women can take on men. It’s about tactics, skills, using the brain, using the top two inches when you need it under pressure. You know, women are good for certain things too. There is a lot of calm in us. The men blew their testosterone all over the place, the big hits – but that’s always what it’s about. I kept telling the guys to believe and really feel it when we got this. If I can involve even more women, I would be all the happier. “
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It’s a sport that was stripped of all British sports funding just five years ago after the team finished fifth in Rio (no European nation had previously won gold in the sport). An appeal to overturn the decision was also denied, despite emergency funding being granted late in the Games cycle. Grimes said the cut was a moment of adversity that only led to greater determination.
“The guys worked so hard for a couple of years. I got into it later, but I had to work without money for two years, paid for equipment, go to training, get family support. We had to dig deep. To have the funding now is amazing. Solidifying that and moving the sport forward is absolutely incredible, overwhelming, and making history. ”It feels like an accurate summary.