Wheelchair rugby, the sport of smashing and grabbing and sprinting and crashing, is a definitive Paralympic event. It’s a sport of danger and cunning and of absolute granite determination. For the first time, Great Britain is the champions.
Led by Stuart Robinson, the former RAF gunner who lost both his legs to an IED in Afghanistan, and Jim Roberts, who turned to wheelchair rugby during the three years he spent in hospital recovering from bacterial meningitis, Great Britain beat the United States the most successful nation in the history of the sport by 54 tries to 49 and led from start to finish.
Robinson said, “It’s still sinking in. The way that we’ve been together as a squad for the past four or five years has been building towards this. We worked so hard during the pandemic at home and away at training camps. We came back and put everything into practice that we’ve been learning. We knew that we were building something special and we’ve come here and put it all on the show and come away as Paralympic champions. I think we knew that the spirit within ourselves was here. One of the things we’ve got on our canvas as a squad is ‘relentless’. We kind of showed that today in that we never gave up and went to the final buzzer.”
Wheelchair rugby is a sport that levels out a lot of differences between competitors, with great differences in the level of disability between players in the same team. It is also open to mixed-gender selection with GB’s Kylie Grimes becoming the first woman to win a gold in the competition on Sunday.
It’s a sport that was deprived of all UK Sport funding just five years ago after the team recorded a fifth-place finish in Rio (no European nation had ever won gold in the sport before). An appeal to overturn the decision was rejected too although some emergency funding was granted late in the Games cycle.