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Team USA Takes Silver After Hard-Fought Wheelchair Rugby Medal Match

By Katie Grunik | Aug. 29, 2021, 11:43 a.m. (ET)

Chad Cohn and Chuck Aoki embrace after losing the wheelchair rugby gold medal match at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 30, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. 


TOKYO - After five straight days of matches, the U.S. wheelchair rugby team took home the silver on Sunday night at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. 

It was a close game, resulting in a devastating 54-49 loss to Great Britain in the gold medal match. Great Britain won their first medal in wheelchair rugby becoming the first European country to medal in the sport. 

“It’s heartbreaking but at the same time you are proud to be on the podium representing your country,” said Chuck Melton, co-captain of the 2020 team. “Great Britain gave us one of the toughest games ever. We had a plan of execution, they counteracted, and we kept going back and forth. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t come out on top today.” 

Josh Wheeler led scoring for the U.S. with 21 tries, followed closely by Chuck Aoki with 18 tries. The team fought to hold the British to a lead of no more than three points until the end, trading points at a tie score throughout much of the gold medal match.

I’m proud of the guys, and I’m proud of our team,” said Joe Delagrave, co-captain and two-time Paralympian. “Our two main ball handlers, Chuck Aoki and Josh Wheeler, were phenomenal, and they played a heck of a tournament. Five games in five days isn’t easy.” 

When reflecting after the medal ceremony, Delagrave said he feels blessed to be one of the leaders of this team. 

“There’s two quotes that have been stuck with me,” Delagrave said. “One is from Cool Runnings, one of my favorite movies. The quote says ‘if you’re not enough without a gold medal, you’ll never be enough with it.’ We want a gold medal so bad, but I think there’s guys in there that have learned so much throughout this journey. I know I have.”

While Team USA is the most decorated in the sport, medaling at every Games since the sport’s introduction to the Paralympics in 1996, the silver medal was not the goal in Tokyo. This is Team USA’s second straight silver medal. At the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, the U.S. fell to Australia 89-59 in double overtime. 

The Americans captured a small bit of redemption in the Tokyo tournament, beating the defending Olympic champions to advance to Sunday’s gold medal match. Australia ultimately lost the bronze medal to Japan, who captured a podium placement at their home Games. 

Despite the disappointing loss, the U.S. team felt the love and support of their fans stateside throughout the tournament. 

“The fans at home can be proud of us,” Melton said. “They can be proud of everything we did. We fought every step of the way, and I know they were behind us ringing cowbells, screaming’ yelling every step of the way. It’s hard to put into words what it means to know we have that kind of support.” 

With world championships a few months away and Paris 2024 in three years, the Americans will regroup and look ahead to their next challenge. 

“I still think we’re one of the best teams,” Melton said. “Going forward from here, I have no doubt that we’ll come back stronger than ever. We’ve got the hunger and desire so it’s just a matter of putting it all together.” 

Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo-2020-Paralympic-Games to view the medal table and results.

Katie Grunik

Katie Grunik is a digital content creator covering the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 for TeamUSA.org. She currently serves as the digital content coordinator for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

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