The wheelchair rugby numbers game
Meet Aaron Phipps. He has no fingers, one thumb and no legs below the knee – and he’s GB’s chief goal scorer at London 2012.
Wheelchair rugby was originally designed for players with spinal injuries, but as its popularity has grown since its inception in 1977, so too has the range of disabilities of its athletes.
Players are classified with a points rating from 0.5 to 3.5 according to their physical ability – with 0.5 representing the least able and 3.5 the most able. Teams are only allowed four players with a maximum combined total of 8.0 points on court at any one time.
Phipps contracted meningitis at the age of 15, resulting in multiple amputations. As a 3.5 player, he is at the very top end of the ability scale, taking up almost half of GB’s points allowance. His big advantage is that he has no impairment in his spine, allowing him to outpace and outmaneuver his spinally injured opponents at every turn.
But does ability outrank experience? Training up a player from scratch like GB has done with Phipps is a big gamble for the team.
GB is by no means the only side at the London 2012 Paralympic Games using high ability players to get the edge over the competition. Australia’s Ryley Batt, a 3.5 player who was born without legs and only two fingers on each hand, is arguably the most feared player in the game. As well as having at least as much functional ability in his spinal column as Phipps, Ryley Batt also has two Paralympic Games worth of experience under his belt.
On Phipps’s Paralympic debut this afternoon, GB lost 56-44 to defending champions the USA. GB played well but the USA played better. And rather than relying on a high ability player like Phipps to help score the goals, the USA fielded four mid-ability 2.0 players for most of the match.
So will GB’s 3.5 point gamble pay off at London 2012? Watch here:
Do you think GB wheelchair rugby’s 3.5 point gamble will pay off? Let us know by leaving a comment!