There are many of us who will have related to the tweet on Saturday from one of the respected elders of our sport, himself a distinguished Paralympian, which read: ‘waited 20 years to start seeing our sides being successful overseas’. Winning the Four Nations Tournament in Lakeshore Alabama this week was a big moment – not because the team suddenly has any illusions that the job is done and they are now top of the world, but because they have broken through what had become a seemingly impenetrable barrier. So many tournaments against the top teams have seen GB come close, only to lose in the dying seconds of a key game, often in extra time. Let’s be honest (and the individuals in this team are certainly honest, both with themselves and with one another), even this week we lost games in extra time which we were more than capable of winning. But ultimately the athletes and staff remained composed and focused, and this time they were rewarded, coming out on top winning the gold medal, a result which also moves GB to 4th position in the IWRF world rankings.
This was a tournament which had me on the edge of my seat – often with my hands covering my face – such was the excitement and tension. Hardly a whisker separated the teams and at the end of the group stages all four nations had won 3 and lost 3. Despite GB losing two games to Japan and one to Australia, by beating the USA twice by a margin of 52-45, and similarly beating Australia 58-52, GB topped the group to earn their place in the final. And what a final it was, with the USA exerting so much pressure in the first half that we started the 3rd quarter 2 points down, and with no Time Outs left. It is a real measure of this team’s belief and trust in one another, and the intelligent game management of the coach that GB was able to come from behind to win 49-47.
It is still early days on the road to Tokyo. All teams will improve their competitive edge, refine further their lines and choice of athletes, but to have won so many games this week against teams ranked above us is a huge achievement and we can all be forgiven for enjoying the moment before once again getting back into training and preparing for the next challenge. Still more encouraging was to see how well our athletes fared in the post tournament awards event. Johnny Coggan ranked the best 0.5, Nick Cummins best 1.5, Jamie Stead best 2.5 and Jim Roberts best 3.0. This is the second consecutive international tournament where GB has dominated the individual awards which also bodes well for the future.
It’s a paradox that we are moving up the world rankings and can now justly call ourselves one of the best teams, at a time when we have the bare minimum of support structure around us. This is tough for all of us who are keeping the show on the road and yet it has brought a determination, a hunger and a resilience which cements this team and staff, and is now beginning to bring the results we know we are capable of. It’s great to have the support of members and thank you to all of the individuals who through the different social media feeds have kept watch throughout the week, wishing the team luck, encouraging them when games have not gone so well and celebrating the win with them. Winning makes you hungry for more and everyone is now looking forward to defending our European title in August before again taking on the top teams in the world at the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge 2019 in October.
To all of our sponsors, fundraisers and supporters thank you also – you are part of this success and part of the team, as are the clubs who support GB athletes and the club coaches who play their role in further developing individual athletes. It is going to be an exciting run in to Tokyo 2020!