Five years ago, at Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, Australia and USA clashed in what was regarded as the final of all rugby wheelchair finals.
It was Australia, under the stewardship of Ryley Batt, who emerged the 59-58 double overtime winners to take Paralympic gold for the second time in a row.
Batt, the superman of the team, has described his wheelchair as kryptonite but do not expect to see any outward signs of weakness when the competition gets underway at the Yoyogi National Stadium from August 25-29.
“We know Australia is watching and they love their Paralympic sports, so we’ll be putting on a show,” said Batt, who competed for Australia at Athens 2004 when he was 15 and is now the most decorated wheelchair rugby player in history, with two gold and one silver medal.
“I feel like the old man of the tournament, but I’m only 32 and could definitely play on if I wanted to. This is my fifth Games and I just want to do the best job I can for my team.”
Reflecting on the epic final in Brazil, USA coach James Gumbert admitted: “We think about that every day, and say, ‘OK, how do we get better from that?’”
Returning USA captain Joseph Delagrave, who failed to make the Rio squad, insists the team can go better.
“I think the outcome is gold,” he said. “For us it’s playing as a team, playing together as one, and understanding we’ve got a deep bench and a lot of strong players.”
Wheelchair rugby will be making its sixth full appearance at the Paralympic Gamess after it was a demonstration sport at Atlanta 1996.
While the USA may regard themselves as chief threat to Australia, hosts Japan will be looking to improve their 2016 bronze medal.
Former USA and Canada coach Kevin Orr inherited a Rio 2016 bronze-medal winning squad in 2017 and turned Japan into world champions in 2018.
“As a coach I saw what their weaknesses were, and really tried to focus on those,” said ORR, who featured as the USA coach in the 2005 Oscar-nominated documentary Murderball.
“They’ve been a very coachable team, and that’s to their credit. I’ve learned things from them as well, it’s not one-sided. We’re working together and that’s the beauty of our team.”
Japan will be looking to Kurahashi Kae and captain Yukinobu Ike to help their cause. Kurahashi was the first female player to represent Japan in wheelchair rugby and was a key member of the team which won gold at the 2018 World Championships for the first time in the nation’s history.
Canada, Denmark, France, Great Britain and New Zealand complete the Tokyo 2020 wheelchair rugby line-up, with the first pool phase matches at 11:30 on Wednesday.
The gold and bronze medal matches are on Sunday 29 August.