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21 March 2016

Labrecque to assist Finland at IWRF Rio qualification tournament in Paris

Canadian Benoit Labrecque is assisting Finland’s new coaching staff at the IWRF Paralympic qualification tournament played in France April 16–22. Six teams not yet qualified for the Rio Paralympic Games will play against each other in Paris with the top two teams earning tickets to Rio.


Finnish wheelchair rugby national team got new coaches on February with Jussi Immonen and Osku Kuutamo taking charge. At the same time Finland got an opportunity to qualify for Rio as Ireland dropped out of the qualification tournament.


Immonen has strong background from basketball coaching and Kuutamo has worked in disability sports for years, but they are relatively inexperienced in wheelchair rugby. That was the reason that Finnish national organization decided to search some help for the duo regarding the qualification tournament.


– With 20 years of experience in wheelchair rugby, I will try my best to help Finland in the qualification tournament and give the new coaching staff as much info as possible, Labrecque says.


Labrecque was introduced to wheelchair rugby by a friend in a rehab centre in Québec after his father had a stroke. At first he had to learn a lot by himself watching videos. Then he met legendary wheelchair rugby coach Joe Soares and became his assistant coach in Team Canada in 2000.


After the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Labrecque took charge of Team Canada and led his team to World Championship bronze medals in 2006 and Paralympic bronze medals in 2008. Since that he has coached Switzerland and Sweden and done coaching clinics around the World.


What makes his new role in Finnish wheelchair rugby interesting, is that Labrecque still is a head coach of Sweden. He led his team to the Rio Paralympic Games with a breathtaking 58–57 semifinal victory over Denmark in the 2015 European Championship in Pajulahti.


In the gold match of the Euros Sweden challenged strong Great Britain to an unexpectedly tight battle, but suffered a narrow 48–49 defeat. In Pajulahti Labrecque proved that he is capable of getting the best out of those players he has. That ability is needed again in Paris on April.


– All the opponents in Paris are really strong and they all have a better ranking than us. We are not one of the favourites but we will try to do our best and see what we will have for results, Labrecque says.


– Finnish players already know how to play wheelchair rugby. It is more what to do and when doing it, he continues.


Finland will meet USA, France, Denmark, Germany and New Zealand in the qualification tournament. The full schedule  can be found here.