Wheelchair rugby had a year to remember after an historic World Championship in Sydney, Australia. Here are six major takeaways from 2018:
Beware of Japan
It had been brewing for while, so it was little surprise to see Japan clinch their first World Championship title in Sydney. It was perfect timing ahead of their home Paralympics at Tokyo 2020.
They have come a long way since bronze at Rio 2016. The combination of experienced high-pointers Daisuke Ikezaki and Yukinobu Ike is one of the best in the world. But do not forget players around them such as Seiya Norimatsu, Kazuhiko Kanno, Shinichi Shimakawa, Masayuki Haga and Kae Kurahashi.
A rising star
The youngest player at the Worlds, 16-year-old Katsuya Hashimoto has a bright future ahead. He will only make Japan stronger leading into Tokyo 2020. While his court time on the international stage has been limited so far, expect him to be push for a spot in the starting lineup when he makes his Paralympic debut.
USA needs to break drought
Rewind back to the Beijing 2008 where the USA last struck gold at a Paralympics. But over the past two Games, the USA has not been able to return to the top.
After going through the pool phase undefeated at London 2012, Canada sprung a huge upset on their archrivals in the semi-finals, before falling to Australia in the gold medal match. USA went on to claim bronze. The same happened at Rio 2016, going one better to claim the silver medal after a double-overtime loss to Australia in the final. Their two Paralympic Games losses were by one goal, proving it does not take much to go wrong in the sport’s biggest event.
At the 2018 Worlds, they settled for bronze. Something is missing to get them over the hump. Perhaps they can ask Japan.
Netherlands and Switzerland join Europe’s best
With two spots for Tokyo 2020 up for grabs at next year’s European Championship, Netherlands and Switzerland will enter the event full of confidence. The pair had superb performances at this year’s Division B European Championship in Lahti, Finland. The Dutch especially did not drop a match for the entire tournament, with Emilio Moes named Most Valuable Player.
An Australian legend to be missed
Former Australian captain Ryan Scott announced his retirement following the Steelers’ heartbreaking loss to Japan in the gold medal game at their home Worlds. Scott finished with an incredible international record, highlighted by Paralympic gold at London 2012 and Rio 2016, as well as World Championship gold in 2014.
Welcome new IWRF President
Richard Allcroft has big shoes to fill after John Bishop stepped down from the role
of International Wheelchair Rugby (IWRF) President after eight years in charge. Allcroft has been a member of the IWRF board since 2012 and will look to continue to development wheelchair rugby across the world. More than 30 nations play the sport internationally; and Allcroft and his board will ensure that growth is maintained heading into the next Paralympic cycle.