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9 June 2013

United States Regains #1 World Ranking

USA Wheelchair Rugby has won the Denmark Wheelchair Rugby Challenge, and regained their number one world ranking in the process. Held in Odense, Denmark from June 6-9, eight of the world’s top teams competed in what was the first IWRF sanctioned tournament held since the London 2012 Paralympics.


Organized as a test event for the 2014 IWRF World Championship to be held here next year, teams from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Great Britain, Japan, Sweden, the United States and host nation Denmark participated. As is common after the Paralympics, many of the teams had changes to their rosters following London due to athletes retiring or taking some time off from international play. The four-year period between Paralympics also provides opportunity to develop new players, which most of the teams appearing in Denmark are taking advantage of.


Australia, Canada and the US have been perennial powerhouses in wheelchair rugby for more than a decade, with Japan and Great Britain nipping at their wheels. Most aficionados of the sport expected that the finals In Odense would feature 4 of these teams, with most predicting that it would be the gold, silver and bronze medalist from London 2012 who would end up on the podium.


Gold Medal Match
The Championship at the Denmark Challenge featured #1 ranked Australia vs. #3 United States in a matchup that was closely contested throughout. The 3.5 duo of Batt and Bond, along with their coveted 0.5’s dominated court time for the Aussie’s, while the US ran mixed lines featuring 3.0 Chuck Aoki, or an all deuce (2.0) squad. On Saturday the US had beat Australia (57-48) to win their pool, but Sunday’s final was a much better game for both teams.


Australia won the tip-off and scored first, and at the end of the first and second quarters the score was all tied up (16-16)(30-30). In the third, both teams continued exchanging goals to keep things even, but in the closing minutes of the quarter Australia had 3 consecutive turnovers that gave the US a 4 point lead, and small margin of comfort before the break. When the final quarter began Australia made a valiant attempt to get back into the game (and hold on to their #1 world ranking), but the USA had gained the confidence and momentum it needed to win. Final score was 61-56.


Bronze Medal Match
Great Britain hasn’t competed for a spot on the podium since winning silver at the 2011 IWRF European Championship. The tournament in Odense was a debut for Head Coach Paul Shaw, and introduced five new athletes to GB’s international circuit. In the teams impressive opening match against #2 Canada, they almost pulled off an upset before losing in closing minutes to experience, 49-46.