The Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games (7-15 August) begin a month from now, and many will get to watch wheelchair rugby make its Parapan Ams debut in the very country where it was invented.
Here are five storylines to watch for ahead of the Games.
1. Classic Canada vs. USA rivalry
Canada, ranked No. 2 in the world, and No. 3 USA are heavy favourites to reach the gold-medal match. The giants of the sport battled in an epic semi-final game at the 2014 International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) World Championships in Odense, Denmark, with the Canadians winning in overtime. While they were not quite good enough to beat Australia in the final, the hurt Canada inflicted on their archrivals will carry through until they meet in Toronto, Canada, next month.
2. South American sneak-up?
There is a huge gap in the rankings between the North American and South American teams, but that leaves room for possible surprises. Brazil, Argentina and Colombia sit at No. 19, 20 and 21, respectively. On paper, two of these three are expected to face off in the bronze-medal game. But one could sneak into the gold medal game and even establish themselves as the top team in South America.
3. So who will be the dark horse?
If there is a team capable of an upset in Toronto, it is Brazil. South America’s top- ranked nation may be No.19 in the world, but they have plenty to play for with the Rio 2016 Paralympics on their home soil. Brazil has the opportunity to put wheelchair rugby on the map in South America, so the better they perform at events like Toronto 2015, the more support they will get at the Paralympics.
4. Road to Rio 2016
Twelve teams make up the IWRF Americas Zone, but only six get to compete in Toronto 2015, with the winner qualifying for Rio 2016.
Of the six teams, Canada got into the Parapan Ams as the host nation, while USA also qualified for the Parapan Ams as the 2013 IWRF Americas Zone champions.
The remaining four places in the tournament were allocated to the next top four ranked nations from the Americas Zone, which are Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and newcomers Chile.
Each team can enter a maximum of 12 athletes.
Brazil automatically qualified for Rio 2016 as the host nation. But other teams in the Parapan Ams can still qualify for the Paralympics via the IWRF Paralympic Qualification Tournament, which would be held next year on a date to be determined.
5. Plenty of players to keep an eye on
Zak Madell (Canada)
Canadian superstar Madell is arguably the best player in the world and is a big reason behind the recent success in Canadian wheelchair rugby. The 21-year-old is already a world champion and Paralympic silver medallist, and achieved his biggest honour by taking the most valuable player award at the IWRF World Championships in Odense, Denmark, last year.
Trevor Hirschfield (Canada)
Hirschfield is one of the world’s best low-point players. He was named as the best 1.0 classified player at the 2014 World Championships. Hirschfield got involved in the sport after Duncan Campbell, one of the inventors of wheelchair rugby, pushed him to attend an event. Since then, he has become a respected player around the world and a valuable leader for Team Canada.
Chuck Aoki (USA)
Aoki is arguably the most versatile player on the US squad. The 3.0 classified player is an attacking weapon, but his pressure on defence is equally impressive. Aoki is a natural leader, and at 24, he has plenty of time left in his athletic career to cement himself as one of the best American players of all-time. Aoki will use the loss to Canada at the 2014 World Championships as motivation.
Joe Delagrave (USA)
Delagrave is regarded as the best 2.0 classified player in the world, and it is easy to tell why. He is an incredibly powerful athlete and has great speed, considering his classification. Delagrave is considered an all-around player and can fit into a range of rotations throughout a match. Expect him to see plenty of time on the court and be amongst the leading players in the tournament.
Juan Foa (Argentina)
Foa is a vital cog in the Argentinian line-up. He is the president of the Americas Zone and has been instrumental in promoting the game in South America. Foa is classified at 1.0, so he primarily plays a defensive role on the court. Look for him to shut down the key high-point players during each match.
For more information and ticket sales on the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games, visit http://toronto2015.org.