No game for the old: the art of precision in Paralympic boccia

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Boccia looks remarkably simple. Throw one or more of the six colored balls closer to a white target ball, or jack, than your opponent. Simple? Think again. The sport is a combination of chess, snooker and boules where strategy, precision, nerves of steel – and a bit of luck – come into play. One of two Tokyo 2020 Paralympic sports that won’t has no Olympic equivalent, it shares similarities with French boules or its 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 men in the dusty squares of Italian or French cities, it’s captivating and addictive to watch.

Designed so that athletes with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy or any type of neurological impairment affecting motor function can compete, boccia has been part of the Paralympic Games since 1984.

Wheelchair players use throws from the hands, feet, or assisted by assistive devices such as ramps and pointers, to throw the leather balls which are filled with plastic pellets so they don’t bounce and are easy to grasp.

“Incredibly impressive”

Regardless of the method employed, angles, trajectory, speed and a calculating brain are crucial to prevailing on an indoor playground the size of a badminton court.

But prominent Canadian player Julian Ciobanu, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, compares it to another sport.

“It’s like archery,” he told AFP on Sunday after winning his second consecutive pool match in the BC4 class at 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 unaided category and throws conventionally from his hand, is impressed with some of his fellow boccia athletes and the precision with which they can deliver every shot. .

“It’s incredibly impressive to see these people with their physical limitations,” he said. “It’s a precision sport.

“It’s a sport that involves a lot of passion, a lot of concentration and a lot of strategy, like a game of chess. You have to play with a lot of confidence and always think two or three balls ahead.”

One of the sport’s brightest stars is Britain’s David Smith, who is aiming for a second consecutive BC1 Paralympic gold medal.

Unmistakable with his striking blue and red Mohawk hairstyle, Smith identified another attribute you need in boccia, and it’s one you can’t control.

“I had to dig a little bit and get a little lucky,” Smith said after beating Argentinian Mauricio Ibarbure 4-3 in a titanic pool fight.

“Sometimes it’s all about how the ball travels on this pitch,” added Smith, who won silver at London 2012 and is aiming for a third consecutive Paralympic Games medal.

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“Games can be won and lost by small details, so yeah, I’m going to take all the luck I can get, to be honest,” said Smith who holds a ‘triple crown’ of major tournament titles – Paralympic Games 2016, 2018 World Championships and 2019 European Championships.

Individual medals in the four competition classes, which are all open to men and women, will be decided in the finals on Wednesday, followed by the pairs and team competitions which conclude on Saturday.

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