Joe Delagrave, who is captain of the 2013 U.S. wheelchair rugby team with Andy Cohn, helped Team USA top Japan for a bronze medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
New chapter for U.S. wheelchair rugby team
At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, there was no happily ever after for the U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby Team.
Eight years after Canada trumped Team USA in the semi-finals of the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, the Americans found themselves in the same position last year, stunned 50-49 with no chance for a second consecutive Paralympic Games gold medal.
Team USA, then ranked No. 1 in the world, settled for the bronze medal while Australia and Canada won the gold and silver medals.
“We spent a lot of time preparing for our game with Australia,” Andy Cohn said.
“And we never got to play them,” Joe Delagrave said.
Now is the time for redemption.
“Winning the bronze medal in London left a bitter taste in my mouth,” Delagrave said.
Today the wheelchair rugby season opens at the 2013 Denmark Wheelchair Rugby Challenge in Odense, Denmark, a city that will also play host to the world championships next year. No. 3 Team USA starts action Friday.
“One of my motivations to continue playing was that I did not want to end my career how we ended London,” said Cohn, a three-time U.S. Paralympian. “We’ve been waiting a while to play someone else since it finished. I think there, we really beat ourselves, but we want to get back out there and be the No. 1 team in the world.”
The U.S. plays Sweden and Denmark on June 6 before a pool-play match with Australia on June 7. Canada, Japan, Great Britain and Belgium will also play in the event, which is for the top eight wheelchair rugby teams in the world.
“If we want to be the No. 1 team in the world, we have to beat Australia in Denmark,” Delagrave said.
Regaining the top spot will be no easy task for the inexperienced 12-athlete team, which has Cohn, Delagrave and only three other players from the London roster.
“The strength of our current team, and all of the U.S. teams in the past, is depth,” Cohn said. “A lot of teams have a couple of great players but when something happens to them, there is not a deep bench to help them out. We are the opposite. We lose more than half of our players from London and we’re still extremely competitive. If that happened to most other countries, they wouldn’t be able to compete this year, because they would not have enough athletes.”
Delagrave, who made his Paralympic Games debut in London, agrees.
“We don’t have one dominate player,” he said. “We have a lot of different lines. We have a deep bench. If something is not working out, we don’t have to just rely on that one guy or that one line. We have a deep bench that can step up. It’s a huge strength for us to have so many different options.”
But for Team USA, the only option is to win.
“We’re the team that wants the burden of being expected to win every time,” Cohn said. “We think we should win every time.”
“I have unfinished business.”
And with that, the next chapter begins.
"This is the first step toward Rio," Delagrave said.
The Denmark Wheelchair Rugby Challenge will be streamed live from Odense, Denmark, June 6-10 at http://spstv.dk/sps-tv/.