USA banished the disappointment of only winning bronze at the last Paralympic Games by defeating Australia 53-44 to be crowned Wheelchair Rugby champions at a packed USTB Gymnasium in Beijing on Tuesday.
With six members of that 2004 team returning with a determination to reclaim the gold medal the Americans had claimed in 2000 – they also won in 1996 when the sport was a demonstration event in Atlanta – the task was always going to be tough for Australia.
Both sides had gone into the final with unbeaten records, Australia having only preserved theirs with 19-year-old star Ryley Batt’s goal seven seconds from the end of the first period of overtime in their semi-final with Canada the previous day.
Australia kept the game close until the third quarter when the USA’s defence forced their opponents to cough up five balls in the last five minutes of the period, the one-point difference between the teams at the halfway stage becoming five points.
There was no way back for Australia with USA captain Bryan Kirkland and Will Groulx – two of those who had to settle for bronze in 2004 – leading the way with 13 and 16 goals respectively in the victory.
However equally important was the aggressive defence of Joel Wilmoth and Nick Springer on Australia’s star player Batt, who despite the extra attention still managed to score 23 goals and give 12 assists in the defeat.
Before the final got underway Canada had bounced back from the disappointment of losing to Australia with a 47-41 defeat of Great Britain in the bronze medal match.
Mike Whitehead top scored for the Canadians, who had claimed silver four years earlier in Athens, with 14 goals as his side edged each of the four periods to leave Great Britain still seeking a first major medal in the sport.
Troye Collins again led the Great Britain charge, the 36-year-old finishing the match as top scorer with 16 goals, not to mention 11 assist passes as his side had to settle for a fourth place finish in the Paralympics, just as they had in 2004.
Finishing on a winning note
Meanwhile in the other classification matches at the USTB Gymnasium, outgoing champions New Zealand finished fifth with a 28-25 defeat of Germany - a closer margin of victory than the nine-point trumph they enjoyed in the pool stages.
New Zealand, with only eight players in their team to select from in comparison to the 11 of most of the other participants, had David Klinkhamer as their leading scorer in the match with seven goals, one more than Geremy Tinker.
In the all Asian battle for seventh place, it was Japan who came out on top again over China - a side they have never lost to in Wheelchair Rugby history. Japan were six goals up after the first quarter and pulled further away as the match went on to eventually triumph 58-32.
China, who only took up Wheelchair Rugby three years ago, only saw goals scored by three players - Chen Jun and captain Cheng Shuangmiao both with 12 - in comparison to Japan's goals shared among nine players.
IRB Chief Executive Mike Miller was an interested spectator at the final and was impressed with the skill and spirit win which the Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby tournament was played.
"I thought that the competition was a fantastic advert for Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby. There are differences between it and Rugby, but the spirit in which the game is played is the same. There was a real sense of respect, fair play and camaraderie between all the competing teams and the sell-out crowd really enjoyed what they saw."
"The matches were fiercely competitive with one or two turnovers proving to be the difference between winning and losing."
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