Over 80,000 people filled Olympic Stadium in London on August 29 for the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Paralympic Games.
Her Majesty The Queen opened and remarked, “The athletes’ endeavors and triumphs will excite and inspire people wherever they live.”
Over 4,200 athletes from 164 countries moved past each other to be applauded by those attending.
In his wheelchair, USA’s Seth McBride, was overwhelmed. The man who crashed his USA Paralympic Team quad rugby wheelchair into opponents at seemingly reckless speeds was succumbing to emotions stronger than just competitiveness.
“It was pure excitement,” McBride said of the games opening ceremonies. “After all the buildup and the training, the opening ceremonies are when it hits home that it is time for the big show.”
McBride stated he was used to playing his games in high school gymnasiums in front of a handful of family and supporters.
At the Olympic courts in London there are at least 12,000 fans at each match. England was the birthplace of the Paralympic movement roughly 60 years ago and the entire country has rode the recently finished 2012 Olympic Games on into the Paralympic Games with undying support.
“Even if they are screaming for the other team it is electrifying to wheel out here,” McBride said. “There is no feeling like it. The Paralympics are miles above any other competition in terms of atmosphere, intensity, and emotion.”
Teams will practice and train four years just to try and win the right for these five days of competition in the Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby competition.
On Thursday, McBride and Team USA defeated Japan 64-48 behind Chuck Aoki’s 20 tallies. Japan is led by class 3.0 player Daisuke Ikesake.
McBride is a class 2.0, a mid-pointer, which means he does a bit of everything: defense, picking, inbounding and handling the ball. Only four-players per team are allowed to play at one time.
USA will face France today in the final round of pool play.
In other action, Great Britain rebounded from Wednesday’s loss to USA by stopping France 57-50. They must defeat Japan today to advance.
Canada, bronze medalists in Beijing four years ago behind the USA and Australia, kept their semi-final hopes alive through a 58-50 victory over Belgium. Canada lost to Australia in the opening match and will play Sweden today. Australia continued its roll on Thursday by defeating Sweden 60-47. They will play Belgium today. Australia’s Ryley Batt, who scored 37 points against Canada, added 30 more against Sweden. Batt is the MVP of the Australian national league, the US national league and the World Championships.
“Britain was a much deeper team,” McBride said. “Japan is strong with their best players but they are not able to run a lot of subs. We were able to wear down Ikesake and once he got tired we were able to put a lot of pressure on defensively and create turnovers.”
Team USA ran double teams as Japan had just two dominant players, which forced the ball into the hands of their weaker members. Against Great Britain they ran a lot of straight man-to-man because they matched up with all players on the floor. Britain did more subbing than Japan, requiring the USA to switch defenses between presses and zones against the Brits.
“It is always hard hitting but our defense changes every game,” McBride said. “Even every line change to maximize our advantages.”
Offensively team USA has an offensive set with a high, low, rover and inbound position. The inbounder has a progression, much like a quarterback, of first, second and third options. While they have a game plan, the game is so fast paced it allows for a lot of improvisation. With daily games, McBride’s schedule is basically sleeping, eating and playing.
“I try to rest as much as possible in our downtime,” McBride said. “I’ll generally wake up, eat at the dining hall with teammates, have a team meeting to go over our game plan, then rest or watch (scout) other rugby games until it is time to head to the stadium. Luckily it is only a few minutes away. Immediately after games I get to say hi to all my family and friends who have made the trip over and then it is straight to the dining hall for some recovery food.”
McBride, a 2001 JDHS graduate, has been living the past six years in Portland, Oregon to focus on his full time job, rugby. When not training he is studying in a master’s program in journalism at Portland State.
Among the multitudes of fans and athletes in London there are about eight Juneau residents attending the matches.
“I would love to come back to Juneau when I have that opportunity,” McBride said. “I will never forget all the support I received and continue to receive from everyone in Juneau. I never would have been able to make it here without it.”