London, England — Wheelchair rugby got underway yesterday at London’s Basketball Arena with four games being played: the United Statesversus Great Britain, Sweden versus Belgium, Australia versus Canada, and Japan versus France.
Before a full house at a game that was the first one to sell out in the lead up to the start of the London Paralympics, thedefeated by a score of 56–44. While the game got off to a slow start for the United States, once the team found its rhythm, they dominated the home team and appeared to score at will. Despite this, the crowd supported their side, even when they were down by eight points. When the United States bench started a chant of U-S-A! U-S-A!, the crowd soon drowned them out with a chant of Team G-B! Team G-B!
The United States came to London as defending gold medalists and ranked first in the world. Coming into the game, the team’s assistant coach James Mate told the media regarding this game, “To be truthful we have played the home team a couple of times, but you have to play the game in that moment and it can give the hosts the edge. […] In Beijing, Great Britain gave us our best game, and the semifinal was a three-goal game. We had something similar in June (at the Canada Cup). […] They (Great Britain) play some like us and some like Canada, and are one of the teams that have a lot of good players, so we can’t focus on just one player, but on the team as a whole.”
Ranked sixth in the world, Great Britain came to London as the home town favorites. Their roster included club players from across the country including David Anthony who plays for the Cardiff Pirates, Andy Barrow, Bulbul Hussain and Steve Brown who play for the Kent Crusaders, Jonathan Coggan and Mandip Sehmi who play for the Stoke Mandeville Storm, Mike Kerr who plays for the North West Bulls, Myles Pearson who plays for the West Coast Crash, and the team’s only female player Kylie Grimes who plays for the London Wheelchair Rugby Club with teammate Ross Morrison.
Before the game, first time Paralympian Great Britain wheelchair rugby player Mike Kerr told the media regarding his squad selection, “I felt I’d never been given a chance to get noticed, so I got myself some court time at big tournaments like Knock and Roll in 2010 (a USA national tournament) and Bernd Best (the biggest wheelchair rugby tournament in the world, held in Germany). I played well and I think people finally took notice.” Regarding the wait to play, Kerr said, “It’s hard. I hate waiting around. I’m here to do a job and the sooner I get started the better. But it’s been a great experience so far. The crowd and support have been amazing. […] I’m really confident. We took confidence from how we played against them at the Canada Cup (in June). If we play our game we can shock them.”
The United States meets Japan while Great Britain meets France later today in their second games in pool play.
In the second wheelchair rugby match of the London Paralympics, Sweden defeated Belgium by a score of 52–42.
Sweden, the current European champions, came to London with a relatively new coach, who only took over the side in late 2011. Belgium’s coach Bob Vanacker also plays on the team. He and Peter Genyn and Lars Mertens play their club wheelchair rugby in the United States.
In the first game for both teams since the London Paralympics began,defeated Canada by a score of 64–52. Australia and Canada both had their flag bearers from the opening ceremonies represented by this sport, for Australia and for Canada.
Beijing silver medalists Australia came to London ranked second in the world. Their last major competition before the Paralympics was the Canada Cup, where they lost to the United States by a single point. The Australian side included flag-bearer Greg Smith at his fifth games,who is at his third Paralympics, and Ryan Cott who competed at the 2004 and 2008 Games, who competed at the Beijing Games, Chris Bond, , , Andrew Harrison, and who made their Paralympic Games debut.
Canada came into their match against Australia as returning bronze medalists. Their roster included Ian Chan who was on the team that finished first at the 2002 World Championships, the former ice hockey player Jason Crone from Owen Sound, Ontario, debut Paralympian from Embrun, Ontario Oarice Dagenais, 2002 World Champion Jared Funk from Manitoba, five time Paralympian Garett Hickling, Trevor Hirschfield who is decribed by the Canadian Paralympic Committee as one of the world’s best low point players, Athens silver medalist and Beijing bronze medalists Fabien Lavoie, eighteen-year-old Zak Madell, University of Arizona alumnist Travis Murao, 2010 World Championships All Star Ten player Patrice Simard, former recreational hockey player David Willsie and Harrow, Ontario native Mike Whitehead.
Australia meets Sweden later today while Canada will take on Belgium.
In the last match of day yesterday, Japan defeated France 65–56. France qualified for the tournament despite the national team only being five years old. Japan came to London having beaten the top ranked United States in this year’s Canada Cup.