Eight teams will begin their quest to be crowned Tokyo Paralympic wheelchair rugby champions at the Yoyogi National Stadium on Wednesday.
Pool A will be contested by reigning champions Australia, Japan, France and Denmark, while 2016 runners-up USA are in Pool B with Great Britain, Canada and New Zealand.
The top two teams from each pool will make it through to the semi-finals and the winners of those two knockout ties will meet to decide the destiny of the gold medal on Sunday 29 August.
Australia’s ‘Steelers’ will once again be the team to beat.
The back-to-back champions will be going all out for an unprecedented hat-trick of Paralympic titles in Tokyo with largely the same squad that topped the podium in Rio.
Eight players make a reappearance, including star man Ryley Batt, while long-serving head coach Brad Dubberley is still on board. Five of the team were also triumphant at London 2012.
Among the debutants, Shae Graham is set to become the first woman to represent Australia in wheelchair rugby at the Paralympics.
IWRF ranking: 1
Rio 2016: Gold medallists
Paralympic medals: 4 (two golds – 2012 and 2016; two silvers – 2000 and 2008)
Player to watch: Ryley Batt
A prolific goal-scorer, Australia’s captain is the superstar of wheelchair rugby. Batt top-scored with 27 goals in the final in Brazil as Australia beat the USA in overtime and is looking forward to his fifth Paralympics.
Canada ensured their ever-present record at the Paralympics after they defeated Colombia 57-46 at the IWRF Paralympic qualification on home soil in Richmond in March 2020.
The Canadians have been incredibly consistent at the Paralympics in that they have never finished outside of the top four. In 2016, they missed out on a place on the podium after losing 52-50 to Japan in the bronze medal match.
IWRF ranking: 5
Rio 2016: 4th
Paralympic medals: 4 (three silvers – 1996, 2004 and 2012; one bronze – 2008)
Player to watch: Patrice Dagenais
Canada’s co-captain experienced the disappointment of Rio and will be determined to put that behind him with a big campaign that will inevitably feature some big hits. As a former Ice Hockey player, Dagenais loves taking contact.
Denmark are making their Paralympic Games debut in Tokyo. They qualified on home soil by securing one of two spots available at the 2019 European Championship in Vejle, finishing as runners-up to Great Britain.
The Danish team have competed at three World Championships, with a best finish of sixth when they hosted the tournament in Odense in 2014.
Denmark have twice won silver at the European Championships. They missed out on the title by a single point against Scandinavian rivals Sweden in 2013, and also finished second behind Great Britain in 2019.
IWRF ranking: 7
Rio 2016: DNP
Paralympic medals: 0
Player to watch: Mark Peter
The former Army Corporal was a key figure in Denmark’s successful qualification campaign. The 3.5-classified player has incredible speed and strength and works tirelessly for his team up and down the court.
France are appearing in their third consecutive Paralympic tournament having successfully come through the 2020 IWRF Paralympic Qualification Tournament 18 months ago.
They lost every pool match at Rio 2016 but saw off Brazil, 59-54, to claim seventh place.
An improving team, France will be looking for a big performance as they build towards hosting the Games in three years’ time.
IWRF ranking: 6
Rio 2016: Seventh
Paralympic medals: 0
Player to watch: Cedric Nankin
Known as the defensive “machine” of the French team, Nankin made his Paralympic debut at Rio 2016 and was named the best 1.5 player at the 2018 World Championships in Sydney, and the 2019 European Championships in Vejle, Denmark.
Great Britain have competed at every Paralympics tournament since wheelchair rugby was introduced in 1996 but surprisingly have yet to medal.
In Rio, narrow defeats to Australia and Canada in the pool stages cost them a chance of competing for a spot on the podium.
In 2019, Great Britain captured their third consecutive European crown and their seventh title overall with many of the current Paralympics squad involved.
IWRF ranking: 4
Rio 2016: Fifth
Paralympic medals: 0
Player to watch: Johnny Coggan
Coggan featured in the All-tournament Team as the best 0.5 player at the 2018 World Championships and loves making life difficult for opponents through his stubborn and skilful defensive skills.
The world's best #WheelchairRugby players will take centre stage at @Tokyo2020. Let's know some of them!— Paralympic Games (@Paralympics) July 27, 2021
Ones to watch: https://t.co/zWJwR442DY
#Paralympics | #SportWeek | #Tokyo2020 | @IWRF pic.twitter.com/4Xp2UPLmdr
With home-court advantage, the reigning world champions have high expectations of improving on their third-place finish at Rio 2016 – their first-ever Paralympic medal of any kind in wheelchair rugby.
Japan will be making their fifth Paralympic appearance in Tokyo since making their debut in 2004 and will be full of confidence after edging Australia 62-61 in the final of the 2018 World Championships in Vejle.
In Katsuya Hashimoto, Japan have one of the youngest players in the tournament. The 3.0 classified player only turned 19 in May and will be coming up against some players over 30 years his senior.
IWRF ranking: 3
Rio 2016: Bronze medallists
Paralympic medals: 1 (bronze – 2016)
Player to watch: Kae Kurahashi
Kurahashi was the first female player to represent Japan at wheelchair rugby and is the defensive linchpin of the team. Kurahashi is essentially a free player on court as she is classified as 0.5 points, but counts as zero due to a 0.5 reduction for all female players (classifications range from 0.5 to 3.5, with the lower the number the greater the level of physical impairment).
The Wheel Blacks are back in the Paralympics after a 13-year absence having last appeared at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing and are the lowest-ranked of the eight teams taking part in Tokyo.
Captained by Cody Everson, New Zealand secured their place in Tokyo thanks to a third-place finish at the 2019 Asia-Oceania Championship in Gangneung and will be looking to make the most of the opportunity to compete against the world’s best again.
IWRF ranking: 10
Rio 2016: DNP
Paralympic medals: 3 (one gold – 2004; two bronze – 1996, 2000)
Player to watch: Cameron Leslie
Leslie Is one of the most successful high pointer players in wheelchair rugby as well as being a Paralympic swimmer.
USA have the most wheelchair rugby medals since the sport’s Paralympic debut in 1996, but the last of their three golds came in Beijing in 2008.
Captain Chuck Aoki is a member of the team that fell just short in the final against Australia in 2016 and has plenty of experience around him as the Americans attempt to go one better in Tokyo.
IWRF ranking: 2
Rio 2016: Silver medallists
Paralympic medals: Six (three gold – 1996, 2000 and 2008; one silver – 2016; two bronze – 2004, 2012)
Player to watch: Chad Cohn
Has impressive speed for a 1.0 classified player and reads the game incredibly well which enables him to get into good positions on the court. A veteran of the Rio 2016 gold medal final.