Years of painful near misses were forgotten as Great Britain won the wheelchair rugby competition in Tokyo with sensational wins against Japan and USA in the knockouts
Euphoria as GB strike gold in Paralympics wheelchair rugby
We’re biased of course but has there been a more uplifting moment in the Summer Paralympics than that witnessed at the Yoyogi National Stadium on Sunday?
After years of near misses, Team GB finally delivered a medal in the wheelchair rugby event and it was the brightest medal of all. A gripping 54-49 defeat of USA in the final brought Great Britain’s first gold in a team sport in the Games’ 61-year history and the first for a European nation in the sport.
David Pond, GBWR’s outgoing chief executive and a man who has done so much to find new revenue streams after the savage funding cut post Rio 2016, said: “As well as the euphoria of winning the gold medal, the final whistle brought a huge emotional release for everyone who has been part of the incredible journey.
“It has been a bumpy road in so many ways and it’s been the belief in one another, the trust, the honesty, the willingness and, as Stuart Robinson commented, to ‘always look out for one another’ that has delivered this incredible result.”
Robinson, a former RAF gunner who lost his legs in an Afghanistan bomb blast, had an outstanding final, winning a couple of crucial turnovers to go with a burst of tries/goals in the critical last quarter.
“We knew we were building something special and we’ve come here and put it all on show and come away as Paralympic champions,” said Robinson, 39. “One of the things we’ve got on our canvas as a squad is ‘relentless’. We showed that today in that we never gave up and went to the final buzzer.”
GB had their noses in front from almost start to finish but it was a fiercely contested match. USA, with Charles Aoki to the fore, levelled matters at 29-29 in the third quarter and 37-37 in the last before Robinson took control. He and the excellent Jim Roberts combined for 38 tries between them, and there were notable contributions from Aaron Phipps, a veteran of London 2012, and low-pointer Ryan Cowling.
As always, however, it was a true and magnificent squad effort and among the medal winners was Kylie Grimes, who became the first woman to win Paralympics gold in wheelchair rugby.
Rugby World interviewed Grimes for a feature published in our September issue when she told us: “I think it’s going to be goal for goal a lot of the time. It’s going to be us hopefully edging USA. Japan probably edging Australia.”
How prescient because those proved to be the two medal matches, the hosts taking bronze 60-52 to leave the Aussies medal-less for the first time since 2004.
Japan’s Kae Kurahashi, one of just four women competing in the mixed-gender event, thus became the second woman to medal in the sport at the Games, ahead of Grimes later in the day. Canada’s Erika Schmutz was the first with a bronze at Beijing 2008.
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The part played by people like Roger and Heather Alwen, who performed wonders at securing vital sponsorship, cannot be overestimated. Team manager Lee Stutely, who appropriately handed each of the players a posy during the medal ceremony in Tokyo, was another unsung hero for Team GB.
And enormous credit, too, to head coach Paul Shaw, who brought the experienced Phipps and Grimes back into the programme and unleashed Robinson, a veteran of the Invictus Games. What a potent combination and what a time to deliver.
The team took gold despite a hiccup; having beaten Canada 50-47 and New Zealand 60-37 in their first two pool games, they were edged out 50-48 by USA. They bounced back with an impressive 55-49 semi-final win over many people’s favourites, Japan.
Then came that perfect climax, the avenging win over USA played out in front of the Channel 4 cameras and their emotional commentator Steve Brown, GB’s captain at London 2012. How uplifting, how energising, how mesmeric. A ghost has been laid to rest for Team GB.
2000 USA 32-31 Australia
2004 New Zealand 31-29 Canada
2008 USA 53-44 Australia
2012 Australia 66-51 Canada
2016 Australia 59-58 USA
2020 Great Britain 54-49 USA
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