The United States defeated Canada in the gold medal game at the Parapan Am Games in Santiago, Chile on Thursday night.
Not only are the Americans champions of this event, they also earned a berth to the Paris Paralympics in the process.
It was a bitter 57-51 defeat for Canada, who hadn’t lost a single match going into the title game.
The United States overpowered Canada in crucial moments of the match, led by three-time Paralympian Chuck Aoki and the only female member of the American team Sarah Adam, who scored a combined 45 tries.
“It’s so thrilling. It’s been a tough year for the USA team. We’ve had a lot of losses but our goal was to win here and we did it when it counted,” Aoki said after the win.
“I try to enjoy these moments in my life. There are only so many times you’ll play for a gold medal. It’s a really sweet moment.”
Adam has made history in the winning effort, becoming the first woman ever to win a Parapan Am Games gold medal – it’s a mixed sport but never before has a female been part of a championship team until now.
“It was a team win. We came out with a great plan against Canada and the chemistry with the lines was just working,” Adam said.
“It means a lot that my teammates and coaches have faith in me. The fans were electric. We have really good matchups. You have to play really clean rugby against them.”
Aoki had high praise for his history-making teammate.
“I’m so impressed by Sarah. She’s so dynamic and such a great teammate. I love her being a part of our team,” he said.
The gritty Canadian side must now win a last-chance qualifier in order to book its ticket to Paris in 2024.
“We’re proud of the fact we’re here and won silver. Obviously disappointed. But we have to have a short-term memory about this. We have a qualifying opportunity coming up in March,” Zak Madell said.
Madell, arguably the best wheelchair rugby player on the planet, scored 36 of Canada’s 51 tries.
“We weren’t perfect. I think we’ll watch a lot of video and have a lot of good takeaways from this,” he said.
“We have a lot of good evidence of what we can do as a team. We know what we’re capable of.”
Fellow Canadian teammate Cody Caldwell echoed Madell’s comments about what the team is capable of accomplishing – but still felt like it was a missed opportunity.
“It leaves a bad taste in our mouths, especially losing to the Americans. It just sucks,” he stated.
“We were almost perfect all week. It’s not over. Now we regroup and we have to go to New Zealand in March to qualify. Our job is not finished yet.”
Canada brought its undefeated record into the title game, having defeated the Americans in preliminary play as well as the rest of the field – they had an undeniable swagger and confidence about them as the match started.
But they would be tested time and time again by the USA.
The Americans were the first to establish momentum and a lead. When the buzzer sounded to end the first period, the United States had a two-try lead at 14-12.
That two-goal lead would hold for much of the second period as both teams tried to find space on the crowded court.
A turning point game with 4:28 left before halftime, when Madell stripped the ball from the Americans and took it in for a try. That made it 20-19 USA, and it looked as though Canada had started building momentum.
But the Americans are the top-ranked team in the world for a reason. They showed poise and patience, countering the Canadian attack at every turn of the wheelchair, inevitably outclassing Canada down the stretch.
The first two Parapan Am Games finals (the sport joined the Games in 2015 in Toronto) were between the Canadians and Americans.
Canada took the gold on home soil in 2015 to earn its ticket to Rio 2016. The Americans got revenge in 2019, forcing Canada to win a last chance qualifier to get its ticket to Tokyo 2020.
And now Canada is once again in a position after having to win a last-chance qualifier after this Parapan Am Games loss to USA.