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Tradition in Brazil and Portugal squares and parks, where weekend athletes of all ages entertain themselves throwing small balls within the playing ground, Boccia is one of the most tense and levelled sports at the Paralympic Games. It was not by chance that both Portuguese speaking countries became a synonym of glories and medals in Beijing 2008, and they are anxious about Rio 2016.
Used to Paralympic podiums, the Portuguese team was caught by the rapid growth of their overseas brothers. At BC4 class, for instance, they have lost the pair final and saw Brazil win the gold and bronze medals in the individuals.
“Brazil got to Beijing 2008 without expectations. I see our victories as miracles. Everyone is already expecting a good result for London 2012. We have good chances. For Rio 2016, we see it in a different way. The pressure to win the gold medal will be all over us, Brazilians”, says Dirceu Pinto, gold in the individual and pair competitions, together with Eliseu dos Santos.
The sport is disputed by athletes with cerebral palsy using a wheelchair. There are individual competitions (BC1, BC2, BC3 and BC4 classes), pair competitions (BC3 and BC4) and teams of four (BC1 together with BC2) competitions. The classes are defined by the extent of the athlete disability and by the need of an assistant to help moving and catching the ball. Women and men compete together (check out the rules).
Stories to be told
From the seven podiums to be disputed, Portugal won five medals, including gold and silver medals in the individuals BC1. To Dirceu Pinto, Brazil is inspired and shows good results in such a short period of time thanks to the fighting spirit and determination of its athletes. Dirceu practices the sport since 2002 and tells interesting stories about training and competitions, like those which have preceded the medals in Beijing 2008.
“We used to train twelve hours per day in Brazil for the Beijing Games. We have arrived there two weeks before the Games just to prepare ourselves, but the conditions were different. We had one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon to train. That was what the organisation had to offer. Then, we managed to get a space at the Paralympic Village parking lot. We made a quick cleaning and started training there. This was crucial”, Dirceu recalls.
“Boccia has grown substantially in Brazil. There is no doubt about that. In 2008, we had two, three opponents capable of disputing with me and Eliseu as equals. Today, we go to the national championships, and there are 12, 16 capable of doing so. The internal competition is too strong. We have to work hard to be able of playing the Games at home”, he concludes.
Besides Portugal and Brazil, traditional teams as Great Britain, Hong Kong, South Korea and Spain achieved good results at the last edition of the Games. For London 2012, the expectation is of hard battles and entertainment to all ages.