After a thrilling preliminary game between Team USA and Canada, Friday’s gold-medal game is sure to be a nail-biter. The prelim game went into double overtime, with the U.S. narrowly taking the victory 60-59. Before the athletes take to the court on Friday night, here’s everything you need to know about the biggest wheelchair rugby game of the year.
What’s at stake
The winner of Friday’s gold-medal game not only gets bragging rights, but wins a berth to the Rio 2016 Paralympic games. For the losing team, the journey is not over, but they will have to take a much more circuitous route to try to qualify for the Games.
At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Canada beat the U.S. to advance to the gold-medal game, where they went on to win the silver medal. In 2014, the Canadians again knocked out the U.S. team in overtime at the World Championships in Odense, Denmark to advance to the gold medal game and ultimately brought home silver. The teams enter the Parapan American Games with Canada ranked No. 2 in the world and the U.S. No. 3.
Ten years later
Recently cited as one of the top 30 sports movies of all time by Rolling Stone, Murderball debuted in July 2005 and chronicled the journey of the U.S. and Canadian teams as they prepared for the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece. The Americans came into those Games heavily favored and were shockingly beaten by the Canadians in the semis. Ten years later, while much has changed, the rivalry between these two countries is as vibrant as ever.
So where are the key players today? Andy Cohn, a featured athlete in the documentary recently retired from the sport and is now in his first year as an assistant coach to Team USA. The 2004 U.S. Assistant Coach James Gumbert is in his 10th year as the U.S. head coach and Kevin Orr, the 2004 U.S. head coach is now the head coach of the Canadian wheelchair rugby team. It’s been an amazing turn of events for these men, and this Parapan match-up will be another huge moment for these national teams.
Both teams have plenty to prove when they take the court at the Mississauga Center tonight. The Canadians, boosted by incredible hometown support here in Toronto, are looking for a huge win on home soil. The Americans would love nothing more than to take home the gold in Canada after losing to the Canadians on some of the biggest stages.
Athletes to watch
Canadian Zak Madell, the MVP of the 2014 World Championships is widely regarded as one of the top players in the world. American Chuck Aoki is gaining in prominence on the international rugby scene and could be a major factor in the gold medal games at the Parapan Ams along with seasoned veteran Joe Delagrave. Both teams come into these Games with a mix of experience and depth on their bench, with many of the future stars of the 2016 Paralympic Games likely on the court.
Where to watch