Japan’s No. 7 catches the ball but before he has time to react, a hulking, tattooed Australian is bearing down on him.
The collision sends a jarring squeal of metal against metal around the arena, and the crowd winces in unison before peering back through its fingers toward the action.
Welcome to the world of wheelchair rugby, where smashing into opponents at full speed is not just legal, it’s an essential part of a sport that was originally known as “murderball.”
“If you’ve never seen the sport and you come to it, all of a sudden these guys in wheelchairs are slamming into one another,” United States head coach James Gumbert told The Japan Times over the weekend at Chiba Port Arena, where the U.S., Japan and Australia were competing over four days in the Japan Para Championships.
It’s a structure that will be impossible to miss: a steel-and-glass roof inspired by traditional Japanese origami, hovering above a light-flooded train station and a sprawling subterranean “city.”