There will be many more British gold medals and records at these Paralympic Games, but none will resonate quite like the triumph of the wheelchair rugby team that, against all odds, won the first gold in a team sport in the Games’ 61-year history. delivered.
It wasn’t just the players’ individual stories – from the Afghan military hero to the woman whose life was completely changed by a diving accident – but the fact that the group was told five years ago that their £3 million funding had been withdrawn and that she had to fight to get £500,000 back.
A breathtaking victory over the US — a team of tough, veteran operators who define the sport’s alternate name: Murderball — justified that fight, team member Ryan Cowling said Sunday.
Ryan Cowling celebrates after Team GB beat the US to win their first wheelchair rugby gold
No player seemed so overwhelmed by the moment of victory as Stuart Robinson, a former RAF commander. He plays with a look of relentless intensity on his face, but a trail of tears played on his face as the national anthem played at the end of it all.
Robinson, whose two turnovers and eight tries in the final quarter of the final were crucial for GB gold, cited the team’s trials and tribulations since 2016 as the reason, although the carnage at the site where he lost his left leg set the backdrop for this tournament.
“I’ve seen what’s been happening in the news lately and I’ve tried to focus on the sport,” he said in the aftermath.
‘It is very unfortunate what is happening. I tried not to let it affect me too much.’
Robinson, who previously served in Afghanistan, was emotional during the national anthem
He will not attempt to meet the two Afghan athletes who arrived here after being evacuated to Paris for the first time on Friday.
“My time in the military ended a few years ago now,” he said. ‘My focus is now on sports.’
That focus made for a win that seemed to resonate with the public even more than the dizzying streak of British record times in other sports.
It took the Paralympic Games out of the realm of high-level individual performance – where so many gold medalists have an edge on the field – and produced massive clashes. Crushing wheelchairs and reversing players.
GB had lost to the US in a pool game. Robinson stated that he was extremely pleased “to come back and beat the Americans.”
Robinson celebrates Team GB victory with Ryan Cowling (left) and Ayaz Bhuta
The arc of his own game showed the ups and downs of team sports. The game was evenly matched in the final quarter when his chair was thrown to the ground, allowing for an American turnover and try.
That moment of disaster ignited him. “I’ve tried not to let the negativity affect me too much,” he said. “We knew the advantage that the Americans had given in the game.”
He then went on to turn the game in the direction of GB, with two of the turnovers crucial to this sport – Joe Delagrave’s ball for one. It was his job that brought GB 54-49 home.
A successful wheelchair rugby team needs a mix of Robinsons – players with a high degree of ball ability, despite being confined to a wheelchair – and Cowlings – low pointers who block and defend.
Low pointer Kylie Grimes, the only woman in the selection, did not play in the final last night, but did play in the group against New Zealand.
Robinson (right) holds the ball as American Joshua Wheeler tries to steal possession
‘More ladies! I hope I can inspire girls to try it,” she said when asked where she hoped this could lead.
But it was the game’s Murderball moments that made the spectacle so compelling.
Robinson and teammate Jim Roberts, who works for an architectural firm in his other life, went from chair to chair with the iconic American No. 5 Chuck Aoki. Not a quarter of an hour was spared.
The strategy of the US team was to sit deep and invite GB to join them. In front of them was a steel wall. GB made their way through the tight spaces, or they stormed through.
GB had a much more ambitious game and pressed high on the pitch. Fortune favored the brave.
One of the motivational posters around the GB squad simply reads, “Relentless.” They have adhered to that.
American Chuck Aoki (left) fights for the ball with Jim Roberts during the gold medal match
Robinson’s gold medal marked a new stopping point in his life that he never expected after his vehicle was blown off the road in Helmand eight years ago. He is one of three former British soldiers wounded in Afghanistan and to have won medals here.
“Of course we know each other,” he thought. “We knew that these Games were the pinnacle of where we wanted to go.
“I think what we’ve done shows a bit of that military mentality. You have a little bit of the ability to work really well as a team.
“You always take care of each other.”
Jamie Stead (left) celebrates with Ryan Cowling after taking the gold medal on Sunday
Visually impaired judoka Chris Skelley paid tribute to his former coach Jeff Brady, who died just before the Paralympics after winning gold in the B2 -100kg final. Next year, Skelley will marry Louise Hunt, wheelchair tennis player, whom he met on the flight home from Rio 2016. ‘I’m getting married as a Paralympic champion!’ he said.
Dame Sarah Storey says she will need ‘courage’ at the Fuji International Speedway circuit, where tomorrow she will try to match swimmer Mike Kenny’s record of 15 golds. “I’ve heard the course is very tough,” she said.
Jonnie Peacock discovered how big the task was for him when Felix Streng clocked a Games record, beating him to second in the 100m. The final is on Monday.
GB swimmer Suzanna Hext said it was ‘not safe to continue’ after a series of asthma attacks led to her withdrawal from the Games.
Team GB sprinter Jonnie Peacock will participate in the men’s 100 meters final on Monday