5 September 2012 - Wednesday, a week into the Games, and today I was at the most packed arena I’ve seen outside of the Olympic Stadium, and the loudest, for sure.
It is really quiet sometimes in the Stadium: at the start of races and during track and field events for athletes with visual impairments, silence is required so they can hear their guides.
But at wheelchair rugby, no one is quiet, especially today when top -ranked Team USA were playing the hometown heroes, Team GB (Great Britain). It was loud, loud, and louder with exclamations at hits, boos at calls by the umpires, and competing chants of “USA! USA!!” and “TEAM GB! TEAM GBeeee!!”
Team USA started off a little slow, giving Team GB the chance to pull ahead. The US also racked up some penalties in the first quarter, when (as in hockey penalties) one of the athletes has done something against the rules and must sit out for a minute. This gives the opposite team a great opportunity to score. Team GB did.
But the US muscled back. Well before the half, they were bumping and slamming – oh, excuse me, “picking and blocking” - showing the kind of strategic tightness that’s made them champions.
Rugby is a full-contact sport, which is part of what attracts athletes to it. Nick Springer told us how hard it was to wait for their matches to start today, 7 days into the Games: “We were ready to start bumping.” Some of the bumps are so hard, they tip the athlete over, even though these are tough, heavy wheelchairs, set low to the ground, riding on armored wheels, made to hit and be hit. In the second quarter, a collision broke a wheel. The repair team bounded on to the court like it was a pit stop at Grand Prix, whipping off the old wheel and fixing on the new one in seconds.
Final score: USA 56 – Britain 44.
But give the British team points for style: David Anthony on their team was sporting a bright blue, spiked mohawk. And Kylie Grimes, the only woman on these two teams, was wearing bright purple-red hair with a Union Jack carved into the do.
Judith Vecchione, for MEDAL QUEST