Three Cheers for Wheelchair Rugby!
On Friday 7th September 2012, I was lucky enough to attend a great match between Canada and Sweden at the Paralympics.
The sport in question was Wheelchair Rugby. I'd never come across this sport before the London games, or even seen it played until that day. The brand-new Basket Ball arena was the host venue to a sport whose origins are in Canada.
With plenty of fired-up supporters, some for Canada, some for Sweden, and others just wanting to see a great match, the atmosphere was fantastic; tribute to the arena's great acoustics and the volunteers who got the crowd ready.
Four players for each team are on the court at any time. Players can regularly substitute in and out. The aim of the game is to get the ball across the line of the other team's goal. Every player is in a wheelchair, and it's a fast-paced and physical sport. The winner would go through to the Semi-Finals, and both teams wanted to succeed.
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Before kick-off, our commentator asked everyone who had never seen this sport before to raise a hand. Almost every person in the audience put a hand in the air. Our commentator welcomed us, and explained the rules, so that everyone understood the game.
The back-and-forth action was hugely exciting, and it's the most exciting sport I've ever been to see. For almost the entire match, only one point separated the two teams, and anyone could have won. Both teams gave their all until the end. Twice, wheelchairs crashed the ground, but the players were helped back up, and bravely carried on with the match.
With only 10 seconds left on the clock, a time-out was called and each-team spoke tactics. Canada were up 53-52 and the Swedish team had to score to bring this to extra time. With only four seconds to go, the referee's whistle again blew, and there was great uncertainty over what the decision was going to be. The players were right by the edge of Canada's goal; and the Swedish had to score. The crowd were hugely excited and showed it with great volume. It felt as though I was in every feel-good sports movie of all time. Ultimately, his decision went in favour of the Canadians. Four seconds later, they won the game by a single point, had a place in the semi-finals and a chance at Paralympic gold!
As we left the arena, we all knew we had seen something special. Word must have spread, because the crowds flooded into the arena ready for next match. I hope wheelchair rugby is something I get to see again, and think all the players did their countries proud.