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17 September 2013

US seeks revenge against champion Aussie team

Written by Dave Sygall


The US wheelchair rugby team, still fuming at having lost its Paralympic title to Australia in London last year, arrived in Sydney on Monday with the squad it believes can win back the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.


Amid a fierce rivalry in a sport often referred to as ''murderball'', the Americans - who beat their arch-rivals in gold medal matches at Games in Sydney and Beijing - were demoted to bronze in London, while the Australians blasted through the tournament without losing a single quarter to claim their first gold medal.


But the US team returned with a vengeance at a recent tournament in Denmark, beating the Australians to re-claim the world No.1 ranking from the Steelers. Both teams will be out to prove a point at the Tri Nations tournament on the forecourt of Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral from Wednesday to Friday. The third team, New Zealand, will also want to make a statement after one of its top players, Curtis Palmer, who spent time growing up in Australia as a youngster, recently switched his allegiance to the Steelers.


Leading Australian player Ryley Batt said his side was ''fired up'' to re-establish its Paralympic credentials. ''We need to get some wins to get confidence back in the team,'' said Batt, one of three nominees worldwide for best male athlete at the Paralympic Sports Awards in November, along with the Steelers, who are nominated for best team. ''We were number one and it's a bit embarrassing having a gold medal sitting there but then get beaten in Denmark.''


US player Chuck Aoki said from Minneapolis on Friday that the American squad had been revamped after the Paralympics, with seven new faces. ''We've embraced youth,'' he said. ''Now we have more of our team below 30 than above.'' Aoki said it was important to win in Australia to continue the rebuild en route to Rio.


Wheelchair rugby was arguably the most popular sport at the Paralympics, with tickets in high demand. It is played primarily by quadriplegics, who are graded according to their physical ability. The chairs are modified to take heavy collisions and players can end up toppling over. Batt, who has the highest grading of 3.5, was born without legs or fingers, but has broad, strong, tattooed shoulders and control enough to do ''wheelies'' in his chair.


He said he was pumped up for this tournament after reading ''Warrior Training'', about an SAS soldier's training.


''It's amazing what they go through,'' he said. ''It's just incredible what they do to their bodies - sleep deprivation, hunger, thirst, pushing themselves each day - we've got nothing to whinge about.'' Aoki said the Americans were in no doubt that Batt was the world's top player, with fellow 3.5 Chris Bond also among the best. But Batt said the Australians' success was a joint effort.


''It's a team sport and we can back that up,'' he said. ''We had such a great team in London. I didn't pull them through, the whole team pulled us through. You've got to have great players and great staff behind you. That's how it all pays off.''


Tri Nations Schedule - Sydney Australia
Wednesday, September 18, 2013   Score
10:45 AM United States vs. Australia   
5:30 PM New Zealand vs. Australia  
7:30 PM Australia vs. United States  
Thursday, September 19, 2013 
12:30 PM New Zealand vs. Australia  
5:30 PM United States vs. New Zealand  
7:30 PM Australia vs. New Zealand  
Friday, September 20, 2013  Score
12:00 PM Semi-final  
5:00 PM Final