Sweden seek to go deep in Rio 2016
By Beau Greenway for IPC
Sweden has been one of the top wheelchair rugby teams in Europe. But when the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games come in less than four months’ time, Sweden has a chance to prove they are a force to be reckoned with outside their region.
Recent performances have given Sweden confidence that they can do just that.
“I feel that we proved in the final in the  Europeans against Great Britain that we can play a very solid game against a strong British team,” Tomas Hjert said.
“We have to keep improving the upcoming months and bring our A-game to Rio, then we can play a tight game with any of the top teams.”
The 2.5-player has become one of Sweden’s rising stars, helping them win the 2011 European Championships. Sweden however finished sixth in London 2012, where they were in a competitive pool with Australia and Canada, who took the gold and silver medals, respectively.
After London, Hjert was among the experienced players on a young Swedish team that finished seventh at the 2014 International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) World Championships in Odense, Denmark.
But Sweden has shown consistent fight. After an exhilarating finals in the 2015 IWRF European Championships, Sweden fell to Great Britain 49-48, but their silver-medal finish was good enough to qualify them for Rio.
Hjert said that he and his Swedish teammates will look to improve on their London performance. Although they entered 2016 knowing they qualified, they do not want to get too relaxed and are hoping to get more competition in ahead of Rio.
“As we are already qualified we have had a bit easier start off the year, with trips to [the USA] and [Great Britain] in March and April our main events so far,” Hjert said.
The former able-bodied ice hockey player will compete in his second Paralympic Games after becoming paralysed from the chest down when he was injured during a game.
He took up wheelchair rugby during his rehabilitation period and stuck with it.
Now, his focus is on helping Sweden post their best Paralympic campaign.
“There is a lot more to come during the summer, but we have been working pretty much the same way as before,” Hjert said.
“We'll see if we get into more special training the closer to Rio we get.”
The Swedes will have excellent preparation for Rio when they head to the annual Canada Cup in Vancouver. The event runs from 24-26 June and features a high-quality field with four teams who will be competing at Rio, including world No.1 Canada, defending Paralympic and world champions Australia, European champions Great Britain and Asian champions Japan. Denmark and New Zealand, who narrowly missed qualification, and Switzerland will also contend.
After the Canada Cup, Sweden will head to Switzerland for a camp and tournament in July.
“That together with a couple of new faces will hopefully give us a good mix this time around,” He said.
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs).