Great Britain wiped away the United States’ hopes of returning to the top of the Paralympic wheelchair rugby podium Sunday night when it won its first medal in the sport, taking the gold 54-49.
With the victory, Kylie Grimes became the first woman to win Paralympic gold in the sport. The 33-year-old also competed in wheelchair rugby at the 2012 Paralympic Games and track and field in Rio five years ago.
The U.S. has historically been one of the most dominant forces in wheelchair rugby, a mixed-gender sport also known as murderball, since its Paralympic debut in 1996 and remains the only nation to medal at all seven Paralympic Games — with three gold, two silver and two bronze medals.
The Americans’ last gold medal came at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, though, taking bronze in London then silver in Rio.
Great Britain had previously done as best as reaching the bronze-medal match three times, finishing fourth in 1996, 2004 and 2008. The British had never medaled at the world championships, either, placing fourth three times there as well.
Both teams were playing in Group B in Tokyo and held a 2-0 record until they faced each other in their final preliminary game on Friday, when the U.S. came out on top, edging the Brits 50-48.
In Saturday’s semifinals, the U.S. beat Australia 49-42 and Great Britain took down Japan 55-49, ensuring they would meet again.
Host country Japan went on to claim bronze, 60-52, on Sunday, denying the two-time reigning Paralympic champion Australia its fifth medal in program history.
Chuck Aoki, a three-time Paralympian and one of the U.S.’ two Opening Ceremony flag bearers at these Games, started the scoring in the gold-medal game, then Great Britain’s Jim Roberts earned with his team’s first try seven seconds later.
Great Britain held the lead throughout, with the U.S. tying it up four times in the first period, then again seven times in the third, but was never able to do anything more than that.
Entering the final period down by one at 37-36, the U.S. again matched Great Britain’s score four times but continued to trail throughout the final six minutes.
Roberts led the game in scoring with 24 tries, while 41-year-old Josh Wheeler did the brunt for the U.S. at 21, followed by Aoki’s 18.
Aoki had led the Americans in scoring for all four previous matches, ending the tournament with 109 tries.
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