Elite sport of boccia unique to Paralympics
The Irish team set high standards but they faced elimination after a defeat by Brazil, writes RONAN McGREEVY
YESTERDAY THE Irish boccia team at the Paralympic Games found themselves facing elimination in the mixed team event.
The team, comprising captain Gabriel Shelly, Bobby Connolly, Pádraic Moran and Tom Leahy, were beaten 14-3 in their first match by world number one South Korea. They faced Brazil needing to win well to qualify for the next round.
Boccia, a game of bowls for disabled people – its name rhymes with “gotcha” – is unique to the Paralympics.
Whatever team or individual gets closest to the jack with the leather balls they throw, scores. Each game consists of six ends.
Every Paralympian is disabled but those who compete in boccia are among the most severely disabled. Most have the worst forms of cerebral palsy.
To qualify for boccia, participants must be wheelchair users and have a neurological condition. Most frequently this condition is cerebral palsy but people with muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and high-level spinal cord injuries also compete.
Within boccia there is a spectrum of disability. Competitors in the categories BC1 and BC2 can throw balls themselves. Those in category BC3 do not have the necessary co-ordination to throw the leather balls. Instead, they propel the balls by flicking them from a head pointer and a ramp which is operated by an assistant.
Boccia originated as a form of rehabilitation for those who have cerebral palsy but is now recognised as an elite sport.
At a very humid ExCel Centre South Arena 1 yesterday, Ireland were drawing 1-1 after the second end against Brazil but lost the next ends 2-0, 3-0 and 5-0. They were eventually beaten 11-2.
Last month, Bray man Moran stood on the same stage as Katie Taylor when she returned from the Olympics with a gold medal.
Yesterday the tears flowed freely as he contemplated the end of his Paralympics despite twice-daily training sessions and support from Paralympics Ireland and the Irish Sports Council.
A former world champion, he had set high standards for himself.
“We just didn’t perform. I feel we let people down,” he said. “Everything that could be done for us has been done for us. We can’t fault the preparation and the support we have got.
“It is great to get here but we made basic errors and you can’t afford to do at this level. It didn’t happen for us and that is our responsibility.”