In a recent comment on athletesfirst.ca I wrote that we Paralympians “wrestle with the thought of losing at every training session. Our goal is to perform at an optimum level so that we can win. When we lose though, we lose. We need to work harder next time and although a hug from our loved ones might soften the blow, it does not equal success.”
Over the last days, I poured my maximum effort onto Portuguese boccia courts and came up short. I had some great performances, solid strategies a good mental game and even a reasonable level of consistency. Against the top players in Europe and the Americas, that was not enough. In the game of millimetres that we play, every millimetre counts.
The 2012 Masters began with doubles play, where my partner Marco Dispaltro and I were in a pool with Slovakia and Brazil. In the first game, we started strong, bringing the score to an even 2-2 after 3 of the 4 ends. In the last end, we were focused and ready to surge ahead and take the win. Adrenaline pumping, we missed a few key shots and made, what would end up, a fatal strategic error – attempting a more complicated shot, that would have resulted in the win and a completely blocked jack, instead of a simpler shot that could have just as easily won us the match. The complicated shot did not pan out, and we lost 2 – 5.
We then faced Brazil – two very solid players. After 4 ends, we played well, made shots and kept on top of our strategies, but the Brazilians were able to score a point in each of the 4 ends, winning 0 – 4. We needed to tighten our first ball placements on to the jack to set a tighter tone, and we needed to make more of the easier, open shots that we saw available to us. We improved our results, from the last time we met Brazil – losing 2 – 7 at the 2011 World Cup, but the loss still stung. With two defeats, we did not advance to the direct elimination rounds and finished 6th.
In singles play, I (World #17) drew a very tough pool of World #2 Stephen McGuire (GBR) and World #29 Martin Streharsky (SVK). Streharsky played great in the pools, upsetting both McGuire and me. I decided to test some strategies that I might not normally use against Streharsky, and was reminded why I might not use them! I was demolished 0 – 10 after failing to cover the jack enough, and not establishing solid enough rear protection.
The following day, I took on McGuire. He was able to squeeze 3 points out of his first jack placement, despite some decent blocks from me. He only needed a wee avenue. The next end, when I controlled where the jack was played came down to a final lob. I took a quick breath, prepared to release my ball – having it fly over 6 or 7 already played balls, hitting the jack back into one of my balls placed behind. I contracted my body and released the ball high, between my two arms. It landed just behind the jack, the sound of leather touching leather, but no movement on the jack. Maybe one of the worst sounds in Boccia.
Down 0 – 4, I was able to hop a ball over McGuire’s first ball, directly onto his jack. He spent the remainder of his balls unsuccessfully trying to dislodge it, placing one beside the jack and blocking me instead. I had 4 balls to blast the blocking ball out of the way. Boccia players use our own sets of balls, and this blocking ball was exceptionally soft. I grazed it twice, but was not able to land a square hit on it, and had to settle for one point.
In the final end, the score now 1 – 4, I landed a flawless first ball, and McGuire had to use three of his balls to dislodge it. We then entered into a lob and place match. With two balls remaining, I had 2 balls set up behind the jack, and needed to lob a blue ball out of the way, then lob the jack into what would be the surrounding three balls. The first lob landed directly between the jack and rear protection and bounced over! My last resort was to lob the back of the jack and have my ball plow into the balls behind. I have made this type of very complicated shot many times, but this time it landed and stuck a few millimetres too far behind, just out of scoring range. McGuire scored 2 and won the match 6 – 1.
In the same athletesfirst comment, I wrote that losses “along with glorious wins and multi-medal performances are what make the Paralympic brand so exciting, and why the world tunes in.” When London 2012 rolls around, I will make sure that the millimetres are in my favour. Most of the work is already done, but rigorous training, and tightening my focus are in the hours ahead. This week we are training in Porto, and we will finish our European tour in Wigan, June 22nd at the Cheshire International doubles and team competition.
Losing sure hurts. No Canadians made it to the medal rounds at the Masters, but we all learned a lot about our and our opponent’s games. Valuable information for the big show in just under 80 days.