Paralympic Games
24 August - 5 September 2021

Tokyo 2020: Takeaways from wheelchair rugby

New gold medallists crowned, defending Paralympic champions disappoint and hosts reach podium at 2020 Paralympics 03 Sep 2021
Phipps close up chasing the ball in his wheelchair
Great Britain became first European nation to win wheelchair rugby Paralympic gold
ⒸCarmen Mandato/Getty Images
By Ruth Faulkner I For the IPC

It was a thrilling wheelchair rugby Paralympic competition in Tokyo, with Great Britain winning gold for the first time. Here are some key taekaways.

Steals were key for Great Britain to top the podium 

After two decades of near misses, Great Britain made their way atop the podium, beating USA to take gold at Yoyogi National Stadium. 

“The steals were massive for us,” their top scorer and captain Jim Roberts said. “We know USA run a solid offence so any scraps we could get, we tried to make the most of. They got a little bit desperate at the end and perhaps we got a few more than they would have given up otherwise.”

Australia consider the future after ‘upsetting week’

For an Australian team previously unbeaten at this level since 2008, the big surprise was their uncharacteristic performance with a return of only one victory from their five matches at Tokyo 2020.

“It’s been a fairly upsetting week,” team captain Ryley Batt (AUS) said. “We’re pretty disappointed we couldn’t pull out more wins or make games closer. Unfortunately, teams can’t be at the top forever.”

Australia facing Japan ⒸGetty Images

Japan medal on home soil but still regret

After an exciting competition, it is a measure of how far the Japan team has developed under former USA coach Kevin Orr that their bronze medal was deemed a missed opportunity by five-time Paralympian Shinichi Shimakawa. 

“For this competition we wanted nothing but gold,” the 46-year-old said following Japan’s 60-52 victory against defending champions Australia that secured them the bronze. "We had years of training, but even then it wasn’t enough. So there is still that feeling of regret.”

Denmark have a bright future

Denmark produced one of the biggest wheelchair rugby shocks of all time in their debut, beating defending champions Australia.

Sebastian Frederiksen was the star performer for the debutants, giving a masterclass in clock management to push his side one goal in front with only two seconds remaining of a tense match.

“Australia are the best in the world normally, so we knew it would be a tough game,” said Frederiksen, who scored 29 goals in the 54-53 win.

“They have some really, really good players in Ryley Batt and Chris Bond but we also knew we could keep it close and if we were lucky, we could probably win at the last.”

Denmark beat Australia in their Paralympic debut ⒸAlex Davidson/Getty Images

There’s really good phone signal atop Mount Kilimanjaro

Great Britain wheelchair rugby player Aaron Phipps found that out in his gruelling scramble to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania on his hands and knees in 2016 when a wheelchair adapted for the task proved not up to the job.

“When we got to Tanzania it was apparent that the wheelchair was never going to cope. They said, ‘we’ll have to carry you’ and I said, ‘No you won't’. I ended up crawling on my hands and knees 10 kilometres a day for four days to get to the summit,” Phipps said.

“At the top, I was just relieved it was over and sending WhatsApps home. It’s crazy on the top of a mountain, you get a really good phone signal.”