Thursday, December 9

ParalympicsGB Surprise USA By Winning Gold In Wheelchair Rugby For The First Time | Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

If this felt like a big, shocking moment, it was surely appropriate. Wheelchair rugby, the sport of smashing and grabbing and running and crashing, is a definitive Paralympic event. It is a sport of danger and cunning and of absolute granite determination. For the first time, Great Britain is the champion.

Led by Stuart Robinson, the former RAF gunner who lost both legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, and Jim Roberts, who played wheelchair rugby during his three years in hospital recovering from a Bacterial meningitis, Great Britain beat the United States – the most successful nation in sports history – by 54 attempts to 49 and led from start to finish.

Not that it was easy. Team USA, led by the crafty Charles Aoki, consistently cut a three-point deficit in the first quarter to put the game on the line in the final eight-minute period. However, after relying on Roberts’ consistent scoring, it was Robinson’s triumphant fourth quarter that secured the victory. Returning from a turnover that had led the United States to level the score, Robinson dominated the game; he secured two turnovers and scored eight attempts, including two superlative solo runs, to break the American spirit.

“It’s still sinking,” Robinson said. He spoke after being at the heart of some raucous post-match celebrations and also at the center of a great deal 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 team for the last four or five years has been geared towards this.

“We worked very hard during the pandemic at home and outside in training camps. We went back and put into practice everything we had learned. We knew we were building something special and we came here and we showed it all and we came out as Paralympic champions. I think we knew that the spirit within us was here. One of the things we have on our canvas as a team is ‘relentless’. We somehow proved that today when we never gave up and went to the final bell. “

The dynamics of wheelchair rugby are similar to basketball with regular scoring from one extreme to the other. A turnover is crucial and Great Britain got the first with the score 1-1. With the ball in British hands, Roberts played on Aaron Phipps, the team’s third key figure, to bring about a crucial change in momentum. At 7-5, Roberts returned to take possession and complete a second loss. GB led 15-12 at the first break.

A hit to Robinson early in the second quarter returned the loss to America and it was here that Aoki began to have his influence. With the USA deep on defense and bursting forward in groups when attacking, Aoki was the player with the vision to make the plays, or alternatively, blast his way into the key to score himself.

The celebrations begin in the Paralympic squad GB
The celebrations begin in the ParalympicsGB squad. Photograph: Naomi Baker / Getty Images

An incredible Hail Mary-style try in the closing seconds of the second quarter, with Aoki converting, brought the scores to 26-24 in favor of GB at half-time. With the US restarting the game, the gap narrowed to one and another Phipps rotation gave the US a chance, at least in sequence, to level. But at this crucial juncture, just as the United States had gained momentum in this group stage encounter, Great Britain stood firm. Even a one-minute sin layup for Robinson did not allow the United States to take the lead.

In the fourth, Robinson was brought down and the score was 37-37. Then, perhaps auspiciously, the ball exploded. A new one was released and simultaneously Robinson came to life, firing American Joseph Delagrave for a loss before finding a way to hit Roberts, who then found Ryan Cowling for a crucial score.

Wheelchair rugby is a sport that evens out many differences between competitors, with large differences in the level of disability between players on the same team. It is also open to mixed gender selection with GB’s Kylie Grimes becoming the first woman to win a gold in the competition on Sunday.

“I would love more women in my sport,” he said. “Women can match men. It’s about tactics, skills, using your brain, using the top two inches when you need it under pressure. You know, women are good at certain things too. There is a lot of calm within us. Men have their testosterone flying all over the place, the greatest hits, but it’s always about that. I kept telling the guys to believe, and to really be sorry since we got this. If I can involve more women, then I will be delighted. “

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It’s a sport that was deprived of all UK sporting funding just five years ago, after the team achieved a fifth place in Rio (no European nation had ever won gold in the sport before). An appeal to overturn the decision was also rejected, although some emergency funds were awarded at the end of the Games cycle. Grimes said the cut had been a time of adversity that only led to greater determination.

“The guys worked really hard for a few years. I joined later but I had to work for two years without financing, I paid for the equipment, I got training, I had family support. We had to dig deep. Having the financing now is amazing. Building that and moving forward with the sport is absolutely incredible, mind-blowing, history-making. ”It seems like an accurate summary.

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