SPORTS

‘Murder ball, anyone?’ Paralympians brave crashes, bruises to play rugby

Before hitting the court, American Clifton Chunn boosts his adrenaline with rap music by Eminem and Jay-Z. Then it’s time for «murder ball» – officially known as wheelchair rugby – a crash-and-grab contest known only to disabled athletes with a dangerous disregard for bruises. It’s one of four sports exclusive to the Paralympics, along with powerlifting, goalball and boccia. «I’ve broken my finger before, had bloody noses and busted my chin,» Chunn, 26, told The Associated Press. Chunn won gold at the Sydney and Atlanta Paralympics and is hoping to earn his third in Athens. «I don’t believe you should play with fear,» he said. Starting in the late 1980s, wheelchair rugby is where bumper cars meet pro football: gasps and cheers from the crowd at head-on collisions and careening wheelchairs. Players fight to roll over the goal line with the ball. To James Gumbert, assistant US coach, it’s a «high-paced, action-hitting, crowd-involved type of recreational sport.» Goalball has less contact but plenty of tumble. The sport was created in 1946 for the rehabilitation of blind World War II veterans. Three-member teams take turns rolling a ball fitted with bells toward the opposing goal. Guided by the jingling, players dive sideways for the ground, using their bodies as barriers. The game lasts 20 minutes, long enough to tire out the toughest competitor. «It might look pretty slow from the outside, but it doesn’t move that way,» said German Paralympian Christiane Moeller. «After a game, I’m pretty exhausted.» Blind since birth, Moeller is studying law at Philipps University in Marburg, Germany, and began playing goalball because she «needed a new challenge.» At 23, she is the youngest on her team. She said she has built a strong connection with her teammates to provide orientation on the court. Boccia, another Paralympics-only sport, is played by athletes in wheelchairs with cerebral palsy and other locomotor disabilities. Players toss six balls at a white target ball called the «jack.» The closest shots win. As with goalball, spectators are encouraged to remain quiet so players can concentrate. Paralympic powerlifting debuted at the 1964 Games in Tokyo, Japan, with women first competing in 2000. Athletes, including participants with cerebral palsy and amputated limbs, bench press weights. Four-time Paralympic medalist Kim Brownfield says winning depends mostly on mental strength. «Once you get to this level of competition, everyone is even physically, but some people are mentally stronger,» said the 40-year-old polio sufferer from the US. «It takes a different type of breed to get to that level mentally.»