No. 29 Australia beat USA in thrilling Rio 2016 wheelchair rugby final
The year 2016 will go down as one of the most successful in the history of wheelchair rugby, with the sport experiencing rapid growth and exposure in the past 12 months.
This enters at No. 29 in the International Paralympic Committee’s Top 50 Moments of 2016.
Australia and the USA showed the excitement wheelchair rugby can produce when they battled for gold at Rio 2016 in what was regarded by many as the greatest game in the sport’s history.
The thrilling encounter capped off the most evenly-matched tournament since the sport was first introduced as a full medal event at Sydney 2000.
After four quarters of regulation time, with the lead changing hands several times, the score was tied at 49-all.
In the first overtime period, USA led by one until Australia scored with less than two seconds remaining, sending the match into an unprecedented second overtime period.
In the additional overtime, Australia gained a one-goal lead but the USA never gave in and came within inches of scoring the match-tying point in the dying seconds.
Australia's victory made them the first back-to-back Paralympic champions in wheelchair rugby history, and captain Ryan Scott was lost for words after the thrilling victory.
“It is unbelievable. I could not describe the first time we won so I do not know how to put this one into words,” Scott said.
“It is an amazing feeling and I am just so proud of all the boys. It is a huge honour.
“We knew the team that was going to win had to earn it, so we definitely earned it.”
Scott admitted he thought his side had won after the first period of overtime and began to celebrate before coming to the quick realisation there was another period to come after Chris Bond scored in the dying seconds.
The build-up to the tournament at Rio 2016 was also unique in itself.
In April, the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF) held its first-ever Paralympic qualification tournament in Paris, France.
Previous Paralympic and World Championships results awarded spots based on zone Championships and world rankings.
With the increased competitiveness of teams from around the globe, IWRF adopted a qualification format that brought together six evenly-matched teams to battle it out for the last two spots at Rio 2016.
USA were the clear winners, however, France, Denmark and New Zealand were all tied at the end of round-robin play.
France won through their semi-final against New Zealand to claim the final ticket to the biggest event on the sport’s calendar, but were only able to record a seventh place finish at the Games.
This year was also a banner year for the sport in south-east Asia.
After several years of grassroots development, two events brought the sport to the next level in this region.
From 9-13 June, IWRF held a wheelchair rugby development clinic in Bali, Indonesia, targeting countries in south-east Asia.
Based on the success of 2016, IWRF expects to see continued growth in the region and looks forward to the participation of teams from this region for the first time in the IWRF Asia-Oceania Championship in 2017.
The region will also host the 2018 IWRF World Championships in Sydney, Australia, before all eyes turn to Tokyo, Japan, for the 2020 Paralympic Games.
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2016, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website. https://www.paralympic.org/top-50-moments-2016