- 15 Sep 08, 05:29 PM
The box office big-hitters at the Olympics or Paralympics will always be the athletes, swimmers, rowers and cyclists.
Over the last few days, ParalympicsGB hasn't let us down. David Weir finally grabbed a slice of gold pie in the Bird's Nest, 13-year-old swimmer Eleanor Simmonds got us all blubbering after putting her school books down to win two golds, and there was blind cyclist Aileen McGlynn's glorious win in the velodrome. And before I get a whacking from a rowing blade, there was Helene Raynsford's historic win.
But listen up, there's a Paralympic sport that may not be on many of your radars, but has certainly been rocking my world. It's got violence, bags of skill and more bangs than a Guy Ritchie re-make of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Just a play on the word 'bang', in case you were thinking Dick Van Dyke had played the sport).
Nope, it's not boccia. It's murderball, or for the more conservative of you - wheelchair rugby.
Invented in Winnipeg, Canada in 1977 by quadraplegics who lacked the fine motor skills required for wheelchair basketball, it was introduced to the Paralympic program in 1996. The Americans dominated until New Zealand won in Athens. And in 2005 it grabbed the world with the release of Murderball - a movie documentary following the bitter rivalry between the US and Canada wheelchair rugby teams building up to the 2004 Paralympics.
Bounce a ball, get it down the other end and score a goal. Those are the basics. Sounds straight forward. It is, but why the murderball?
The ball part explains the volleyball they use. But murder? That'll be the contact. Some call the sport "chess with violence". It's actually part of the game to crash into your opponent and wipe them out, even when they haven't got the ball.
Are the Brits any good? They were fourth in Athens, and after losing to the Americans on Monday, captain Andy Barrow and co (which includes 22-year-old Josie Pearson - the first British woman to compete in the sport at a Paralympics) had a chance of grabbing that elusive medal when they took on Canada for bronze. It ended in agony but it had been a fine campaign.
Wheelchair rugby is played indoors by a team of 12 of the hardest, toughest athletes you're ever likely to meet and it's end-to-end sporting magic. Honestly.
I don't say this as someone who knows the sport inside out. And you may be wondering why I'm dabbling with my keyboard when I'm over 5,000 miles away from the land of China.
Business and pleasure you could call it. As a fan of sport, every crash, bang and wallop during GB's win over defending champions New Zealand last week and the defeats to Australia and the US has sucked me in even more. The business part was a seed sown a few months ago in a seemingly quiet gym hall in north London.
I was up in Stanmore with the BBC's Olympic Dreams TV crew (the latest series went out on BBC One in August) to film some of the GB players in training. It was skipper Barrow - he broke his neck in a rugby scrum in 1997 leaving him paralysed from the chest down - that fronted our video guide to the sport (see above).
After three hours of filming and watching, I was hooked. These guys are athletes. Proper bloomin' athletes and tougher than my gran's malt loaf. Why?
1) Injuries. These guys pick them up for their sport for fun. Pushing the chairs for four quarters each lasting eight minutes cannot be easy and I saw hands that day that wouldn't have looked out of place in the living room of Dr. Gunther von Hagens. (Do a google search on Body Worlds if you're scratching your head)
2) No Sweating. What? Most of the players in this sport have bad spinal injuries so they often don't have the ability to sweat. Over-heating is a major major problem so they spend a lot of time drinking water or spraying their faces.
3) And skill. They've got bags of it, even the chunky ones and that's most of them. As well as passing the ball around at lightning speed, staying upright on your wheels is a bonus - not easy when you're being charged full speed from the side. The specially-built chairs resemble battering rams and even have scoops and bumpers to help you strike your opponent. This sport seems to be not designed to avoid brutality.
It all boils down to a clattering, metal-crashing, highly-charged and hugely compulsive sport.
You will love it. Guaranteed. If you're not fixated within 64 seconds you can have your licence fee back. Hold on. That's the talk of a man who's worked too many early Paralympic shifts. What I'm saying is, this is sport at its finest.
With Barrow's barking instructions and star man Troye Collins in full flow throughout the tournament, hopes ahd been high. But it wasn't to be. They lost quite comfortably in the end 47-41.
We should have known. The Canadian team included Say Luangkhamdeng and captain David Willsie. Their thoughts on the sport? Willsie calls it "condoned violence", while Luangkhamdeng, who broke his neck 10 years ago says: "It's a lot of crazy aggression. You get to bag people out there for fun."
Better luck next time GB.
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