Rio 2016 Wheelchair Rugby Preview - Day Five
By Beau Greenway
After four days of competition, the Rio 2016 wheelchair rugby medallists will be decided today in the final two games of the tournament at Carioca Arena 1.
Australia and USA will headline the last day of the Paralympics when they meet in the gold medal match at 12.30pm, with Canada and Japan to fight for bronze to start the day at the earlier start time of 9am.
The world’s top two teams in the IWRF rankings haven’t met in a Paralympic final since Beijing 2008, where the USA were triumphant.
However, both line-ups have changed significantly since that meeting, with the Australians sure to draw on the moments they clinched gold at London 2012 and the 2014 IWRF World Championships.
Australia defeated Canada in both these majors finals after two slip-ups by the USA, so there will be plenty of anticipation as to the way both teams attack this hugely-important clash.
Many insiders within the sport have said Australia has an asterisk beside its name from the London 2012 gold medal, because it didn’t come against the USA, whose have been most successful team at the Paralympics.
They have a chance to prove those critics wrong today by taking down the Americans on the sport’s biggest stage.
USA’s Chuck Aoki has lead his side from the front the entire tournament and was phenomenal in the semi-final with a range of line-ups rotating around him as the focal point.
Meanwhile, Australian high-pointers Ryley Batt and Chris Bond have been lynchpins in the success of their side, with several bench players filling the void when required.
The depth of both benches will be tested when the stars need a moment or two to rest, but it is expected the USA and Australia will stick their top line-up for the majority of the contest.
Japan and Canada should also provide a highly-entertaining game in the preceding bronze medal match.
After taking home the silver at London 2012, the Canadians would be devastated to finish their Paralympic campaign off the podium.
Japan, however, has never won a Paralympic medal in wheelchair rugby and can make history as the first team from Asia to ever reach the podium in the sport if successful tomorrow.
Once again, Canadian star Zak Madell is the key for his team’s chances, but has played some big minutes in this tournament and will be feeling the fatigue towards the closing stages.
Japan’s classy high-pointers Daisuke Ikezaki and Yukinobu Ike have also spent significant time on the court and need to gather everything together for one last push at Rio 2016.
The Japanese team finished fourth at London 2012, but will take confidence from the fact they pushed the USA to overtime, whereas Canada was unable to match it with the World No.1’s.
Regardless of the final results, the Rio 2016 competition has been the closest in wheelchair rugby history with the gap between the teams in the medal matches and those below them rapidly closing.