Andy Barrow: A Testing Event
I could see the Basketball Arena from the window of my hotel room along with the rest of Olympic Park with the London skyline in the background. My house is just seven miles away in Greenwich, so I drive past the site most days on my way to training, but being inside the complex felt different.
Four of the best teams in the world had descended on the Basketball Arena as part of the London Prepares series. But this week, not a single hoop would be shot inside the great white hall. The sound of the net swooshing would instead be replaced with the crash of metal. Wheelchair Rugby had arrived in London!
As we pulled up outside the Arena, Team GB were greeted by several Games Makers and ushered to our changing room. Today would just be a training game ahead of the actual tournament but before that, we had to meet the press. The whole squad went courtside to take questions from several different organisations as one of our opponents, Sweden, trained in the giant 10,000 capacity hall. Seeing the actual place where we’d be fighting for a medal in just five months time was pretty surreal as well as hugely exciting.
Interviews over, we returned to our changing room to prepare for our warm-up game against second ranked team in the world, Australia. This Test Event wasn’t just a chance for us to get used to our surroundings, but also an opportunity for the staff running the event to make sure it ran smoothly. Ahead of tip-off, both sides practiced the routine that would happen before every match in September. From waiting in the tunnel, to warming up in front of the crowds, then lining up for the National Anthems; everything was planned down to the last second.
Both coaches used the practice scrimmage as a chance to let their squads get used to the court and playing in such a vast space. The atmosphere was fairly relaxed and the Aussies took the game 54-48. Day one over and we returned to the hotel looking forward to the tournament proper.
Wednesday morning saw the first game of the series between GB and Sweden. Since losing to them in the European final last autumn we felt we had a point to prove. We took control early and were delighted to see all our hard work converted into a convincing 48-36 win. Australia then took the floor either side of lunch, first beating Canada and then Sweden before our final game of the day against Canada.
The Canadians were well drilled as always, but we managed to open up a five-goal lead on them by half time. However, these guys are the comeback kings and manage the clock better than any team in the game. They chipped away at our advantage throughout the second half, scoring in the dying seconds to force overtime. Despite this, GB held their nerve and edged past the Canadians by the narrowest of margins, 62-61. It was a great victory that guaranteed us a place in the final the following day.
We were up first again on Thursday, facing off against the Aussies in our last pool game. This was a dress rehearsal for the final later on, but was an enthralling game nevertheless. Australia chose to rest star-player, Ryley Batt (3.5), but new talent Chris Bond (3.5) took his chance to make an impact. Yet again, a winner couldn’t be decided in regulation and the teams tipped off again for overtime. Once more GB prevailed and completed the pool stage undefeated with a 52-51 victory. Canada rounded off the pool games by comfortably beating Sweden but their 3rd/4th play-off encounter in the afternoon session was a far closer affair. The Canadians held on to take the game 50-48, sending the Swedes home winless.
The final began with an extremely high tempo first quarter that saw nearly 40 goals scored as GB and Australia battled it out. Unfortunately, the Aussies stepped up a gear in the second and GB just couldn’t live with them. The combination of Bond and Batt left us struggling to get the ball in and led to a string of turnovers. Australia kept up the pressure and pulled away in the second half, taking an unassailable lead by the end of the third. GB fought hard all the way, but there was no denying the heavy 71-48 loss was tough to take.
The Test Event was over as quickly as it began. We have taken lots away and while we’re very happy with what we’ve achieved, we know that we still have a great deal of work to do before September. The Event itself provided us with invaluable experience ahead of the Paralympics and gave us and the other teams a glimpse of what London will be like. Personally, I can’t wait!
Article courtesy of International Paralympic Committee