A Paralympic Preview: Boccia

With the Paralympic Games rapidly approaching, Report On Rio will preview every event that has a Canadian team competing in Brazil — featuring past results, schedules, rosters, and expectations.

The primary objective of boccia is to throw leather balls as close to the jack as possible. The game became a Paralympic sport in 1984 and was originally designed to be played by people with cerebral palsy. Today there are four classifications, including  athletes with other severe disabilities affecting motor skills.

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Boccia is one of only three events at the Games that have no Olympic counterpart. The others are goalball and wheelchair rugby.  All events are mixed gender and feature individual, pair, and team competitions for a total of seven medal events.

Canada took home a bronze medal at London 2012 thanks to  Marco Dispaltro and Josh Vander Vies’ victory in the BC4 pairs. Their podium finish earned Canada its seventh Paralympic medal in boccia.  Former world number one Dispaltro will return in Rio but Vies retired last year.

Meet the Team

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Bruno Garneau

Earlier this month it was announced that five-time Paralympian Paul Gauthier (Vancouver, B.C.)  had to pull out of the 2016 Games due to injury. Taking his place is Montreal native Bruno Garneau, for whom Rio will be a second taste of the Paralympic experience. Garneau and Gauthier most recently teamed up with Éric Bussière to take a gold medal at the 2015 Parapan American Games in the BC3 pairs competition. Sixteen-year-old Marylou Martineau from Quebec City will join them this time around.

Bussiere, 31, will carry a significant load of Canada’s medal hopes in Rio after impressing in winning silver at the World Open in Portugal in June of this year. He went into the tournament ranked only 19th in the world.

Eric Bussiere competes at the 2015 Parapan Ams in Toronto.
Éric Bussière

Bussiere is one of the four members on the team making their Paralympic debut. The Arthabaska, QC native is joined by Iulian Ciobanu (St. Laurent, Que.), who only took up the sport in 2014,  Martineau (Quebec City, Que.) and 26-year-old Alison Levine (Montreal, Que.).

For her part, Levine has won eight international medals in the last two years, including a silver at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto last summer, and is approaching the step up to the Paralympics with confidence.

“It won’t be an easy tournament. We’re talking about the best of the best,” said the BC4 category athlete. “I’m considered one of those now and my goal is to leave Rio happy with my performance, knowing that I played the best that I could, whether I win or I lose, knowing I put up a fight.”

Alison Levine (Centre) & Marco Dispaltro (Right)
Alison Levine (Centre) & Marco Dispaltro (Right)

Levine’s best shot at a medal will comes in the doubles, where she will partner with parasport legend Dispaltro. Dispaltro played wheelchair rugby from 1993 until 2004 and only picked up Boccia in 2010. Currently ranked number two in the world in the BC4 category, he was also part of the silver medal pairs team at the 2015 Parapans.

“No other team has such a good connection as me and Marco do,” said Levine of her teammate who will be 49 year old when Rio rolls around.

Boccia will be staged at Rio de Janeiro’s Carioca Arena 2 from Sept.10 to 16. Visit the official Rio Paralympics website for a full breakdown of the schedule.


Photo credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee

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