Paralympics Countdown #1 – Classifications and Boccia

Gosh, it’s been almost a week since my last post, and it has been A Week! Like a large proportion of the country, I became completely hooked on the Olympics, although I had to watch most of it on replay – watching it live played havoc with my anxiety levels!

Having enjoyed it so much, I wasn’t looking forward to it all being over. Then I remembered that it isn’t! In 15 days, the Paralympics begin, and I’m really hoping that with all the hype this year, they’ll be equally well-promoted. Certainly you can’t get tickets for most events now, which is definitely a good sign.

This is Mandeville, the Paralympic Mascot, named for Stoke Mandeville hospital where the Paralympics originate. Picture from here

The only thing is, I know very little about Paralympic sport. Fortunately though, there are some very helpful websites, with everything you need to know to get the most out of watching the games. So each day, I’m going to pick a sport or to and read up on it. And while I’m gathering information, I thought I would share it with everyone else too!

Today, I thought it would be most useful to start with the big difference with the Paralympics – Classification.

Every sportsperson who competes at the Paralympics is classified according to their disability. The classifications vary from sport to sport, as obviously disabilities affect events in different ways. So, in Archery, there are 3 classifications – 1S (standing) W1 and W2 (wheelchair users with different levels of disability). But in Athletics, there are 40, and that’s before you distinguish between Track and Field. Yes, it’s a bit overwhelming to look at the whole list, but the theory is simple enough – people with similar impairments compete with each other.

The controversial one on this scale had been athletes with intellectual disabilities, who are going to be eligible to compete this year for the first time since 2000, when it was found that some competitors had no disability at all. There’s a good run down of the new regulations (they are only eligible for 3 sports) in the Paralympian Magazine here. The magazine is also a great introduction to the Paralympics, and is one of my main sources* for the week.

Having sorted that one out, I thought I’d start with the one sport I’d never heard of: Boccia. The best introduction I’ve found is here, where you can also listen to interviews with competitors. Channel 4’s guide here also lays things out pretty well and gives you the full schedule.

Boccia draws on games like Boules, where competitors try to get their ball as close to the jack as possible. Most players have cerebal palsy, although those with other physical disabilities can compete. The emphasis is on accuracy and tactics, and if you’re thinking it’s just lobbing a ball across the floor, try again. As with bowls or any game like this, there’s some serious team strategy involved. The video below gives you an idea:

From the Parasport website

I’ll grant you that if you like your sport fast and furious, this might not be for you, but if you enjoyed the curling at the last winter Olympics (the one that really surprised me for being harder than it looks!), then it’s one to look out for. It’s also a sport where the very severely disabled can compete – in one classification, competitors can use a ramp to propel their ball, opening up the game to everyone.

I have to be honest and say that Boccia would not be a must-see for me, although I will tune in for the final on 7th September, in the same way that I skip the opening rounds of a snooker tournament but am often gripped by the final.

Of course, first I need to learn how to pronounce it…

Edit: You can also follow the team on Twitter @GBBoccia, and try an online version of the game here. WARNING: this could get seriously addictive!

*For my main sources, I’m using the official Paralympics website here, the London 2012 Paralympics site here, the Channel 4 site here and the Parasport site here.


3 thoughts on “Paralympics Countdown #1 – Classifications and Boccia

  1. Wait, is Boccia like Boccia Ball? We have a Boccia Ball game set that we got for a wedding present. It does involve lobbing balls in pairs (you and your partner competing against at least three other couples)…I think it might be the same thing (or very similar). If that’s it, it’s pronounced “botch” with a long E at the end…


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