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The boccia looks remarkably simple. Throw one or more of the six colored balls closer to a target white ball, or jack, than your opponent.
Simple? Think again. This sport is a combination of chess, snooker and pétanque where strategy, precision, nerves of steel – and a little luck – come into play.
One of the two Tokyo 2020 Paralympic sports that has no Olympic equivalent, it shares similarities with French boules or the Italian equivalent, pétanque.
The game has its roots in ancient Greece and Egypt and is considered one of the oldest sports played by humans.
But it’s not a game played by old people in the dusty squares of Italian or French cities, it’s captivating – and addicting to watch.
Designed for athletes with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy or any type of neurological impairment affecting motor function to participate, boccia has been part of the Paralympic Games since 1984.
Wheelchair players use throws with the hands, feet or aided by assistive devices such as ramps and pointers, to throw the leather balls which are filled with plastic granules so that they do not bounce and are easy to grasp.
– “Incredibly impressive” –
Regardless of the method employed, angles, trajectory, speed and a calculating brain are crucial to winning on an indoor playing field roughly the size of a badminton court.
But leading Canadian player Julian Ciobanu, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, compares him to another sport.
“It’s like archery,” he told AFP on Sunday after winning his second consecutive group game in the BC4 class at the Ariake gymnasium in Tokyo.
“But you shoot with your hand or your foot.”
Some boccia players have severe physical disabilities, and Ciobanu, who competes in the unassisted category and throws conventionally with his hand, is impressed with some of his fellow boccia athletes and the precision with which they can deliver each stroke.
“It’s incredibly impressive to see these people with their physical limitations,” he said. “It’s a specific sport.
“It’s a sport that involves a lot of passion, a lot of focus and a lot of strategy, like a game of chess. You have to play with a lot of confidence and always think of two or three balls in advance.”
One of the sport’s glowing stars is Briton David Smith, who is aiming for a second BC1 Paralympic gold medal.
Unmistakable with her striking blue and red mohawk style hairstyle, Smith has identified another attribute that you need in boccia, and it is one that you cannot control.
“I had to dig a little bit and be lucky,” said Smith after beating Argentina’s Mauricio Ibarbure 4-3 in a titanic pool fight.
“Sometimes it’s all about running the ball on this ground,” added Smith, who won the silver medal at London 2012 and is aiming for a third straight Paralympic Games medal.
“Games can be won and lost by the little details, so yeah, I’m going to take any chance I can get, to be honest,” said Smith who holds a “triple crown” of major tournament titles – Paralympics 2016, 2018 World Championships and 2019 European Championships.
Individual medals in the four competition categories, all of which are open to men and women, will be awarded in the finals on Wednesday, followed by the pairs and team competitions which end on Saturday.
© 2021 AFP