Sport Week: Storylines in wheelchair rugby10.06.2016
Here are five storylines to follow heading into September’s Paralympics.
1. Canada go for elusive gold
Although one of the wheelchair rugby powerhouses, Canada has yet to win Paralympic gold.
And with their No. 1 ranking, Canada have higher expectations heading into Rio 2016.
Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada are the only four nations to claim medals at the Paralympics since the sport made its debut as a demonstration at Atlanta in 1996.
Canada have taken the silver on three occasions (1996, 2004 and 2012) and have momentum after winning the Toronto 2015 Parapans and the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge (WWRC) in London, Great Britain, where the world’s best nations took part.
2. Australia aim to defend title
The reigning Paralympic and world champions slipped to No.4 in the rankings after a semi-final loss to the USA in the WWRC and defeat to Japan in the finals of the Asia-Oceania Championships two weeks later.
Great Britain also got the better of the Australians at the Rio test event in February; however the Steelers showed glimpses of what they are capable of by winning the recent Japan Para Wheelchair Rugby Championships, getting over Great Britain in the final.
With the world class starting line-up of Ryley Batt, Chris Bond, Ryan Scott and Naz Erdem, combined with a mix of youth and experience on the bench, Australia should not be written off, but will not enter Rio as the favourites.
3. British target first Paralympic medal
Great Britain were forced to play at their absolute best at the 2015 European Championships with hard-fought wins against Germany in the semi-final and Sweden in the final to book themselves a place in Rio.
The young side has had plenty of time together as a squad and are starting to show the rest of the world what they can produce.
No. 5 ranked Great Britain’s best finish at a Paralympic Games was fourth, which they have done on three occasions (Atlanta 1996, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008), before a disappointing fifth place finish on home soil at London 2012.
James Roberts has been a key factor in the turnaround of wheelchair rugby in Great Britain, while fellow young gun Ajaz Bhuta, combined with the experience of several veterans.
4. Potential surprises
The USA, Australia and Canada are the powerhouses, with Japan close behind with a fourth place finish at London 2012.
While the top four ranked nations, Canada, USA, Japan and Australia should be as solid as always, the development of the sport in Europe has rapidly closed the gap to these teams.
USA will be happy to sneak under the radar after claiming one of the final two, last-minute spots on offer at the qualification tournament in Paris, France, in April. Great Britain, Sweden and last chance qualifiers France can beat anyone on their day, while the home crowd support for the Brazilians may see them lift for the occasion.
5. Brazil play with underdog label
The hosts will go into the wheelchair rugby tournament as underdogs, but the sport will receive the best exposure it has ever had in South America.
Brazil is currently ranked No.19 and are among the leaders in developing the traditionally North American-dominated sport in Latin America.
Following Rio 2016, expect a lot more people to know what wheelchair rugby is and more teams to start up around the country, and other South American nations such as Argentina, Colombia and Chile as a result of the Paralympics.
Editor’s note: Each sport on the Rio 2016 Paralympic programme will have a dedicated week of featured content published on paralympic.org. Every week a new sport will be featured and the series will run until September’s Games, helping the public understand more about the 22 sports being contested in Rio.
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs)
Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.