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Sport Week: Top moments in wheelchair rugby

A look at Paralympic highlights since the sport’s debut in 1996 07 Jul 2020
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a group of male wheelchair rugby players celebrating on the court
Australia's double-overtime gold medal victory at Rio 2016 was marked as the best in history
ⒸGetty Images
By IPC

Since appearing as a demonstration sport at Atlanta 1996, wheelchair rugby has continued to produce action-packed highlights on the Paralympic scene. Here are just a few:

1. For the record books

Wheelchair rugby drew tremendous crowds on its opening day at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

It was the first time Paralympic medals would be handed out in the sport. A lot was riding on the home team Australia, as they carried gold medal hopes. 

Eight teams were set to play round-robin matches before the medal games commenced. Four games took place on the first day of the tournament, with Australia facing Sweden and winning by slim margins. Fellow Oceania nation New Zealand were also medal hopefuls and drew crowds in their opening victory over Great Britain. 

Australia went on to finish with silver, falling to the USA in the final. New Zealand beat Canada for the bronze.

2. The best final ever

Australia and the USA showed the excitement wheelchair rugby can produce when they battled for gold at Rio 2016, in what was regarded by many as the greatest game in the sport’s history.

After four quarters of regulation time, with the lead changing hands several times, the score was tied at 49-all.
In the first overtime period, the USA led by one until Australia scored with less than two seconds remaining, sending the match into an unprecedented second overtime period. 

In the additional overtime, Australia gained a one-goal lead but the USA never gave in and came within inches of scoring the match-tying point in the dying seconds. 

Australia's victory made them the first back-to-back Paralympic champions in wheelchair rugby history.

3. Japan enter history books

Rio 2016 saw more memorable moments in the sport as heavyweights Japan put up an impressive show for their first ever Paralympic Games medal in wheelchair rugby.

The Japanese team held off a fast-finishing Canadian outfit 52-50 to claim the bronze medal, the first by any Asian nation in wheelchair rugby.

It was an ominous sign for the rest of the world as Japan look to use it as motivation to go even further when they host the next Paralympics at Tokyo 2020 next year.

4. The turning point

Wheelchair rugby was invented in 1997 by a group of Canadian quadriplegics, and it quickly became evident that the sport was destined to be in the Paralympic Games. By 1993, wheelchair rugby was officially recognised as a sport for athletes with disabilities and the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation was founded. By 1995, the first World Championships took place in Switzerland, only to set up its debut as a demonstration event at the 1996 Paralympic Games. 

Forty seven athletes from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, Sweden and USA took the court, setting off what would become one of the most thrilling contact Paralympic sports.

5. Rise of the underdogs

New Zealand exacted their revenge on Canada at the Athens 2004 Games. Having fallen to the American team at the last Paralympics in Sydney, New Zealand faced them again in the gold medal showdown. They overcame regional rival and reigning Paralympic champions Australia in round-robin play, and went on to meet Canada in the final, taking a thrilling 31-29 victory.