The world’s top boccia players have converged on the Maurice-Richard Arena this week for the 2019 BISFed World Open, which is being held until Saturday as part of the Défi Sportif AlterGo. With close to 100 athletes from 20 countries in attendance, the Canadian team—both veterans and rookies—took the opportunity to score several points toward a possible Paralympic qualification.
Canadian head coach Mario Delisle explained how important it is for an international competition to be held in Quebec just over a year before the Paralympic Games.
“The world rankings in December 2019 will be crucial for qualifying for the Tokyo Games. The points accumulated at this year’s Open tournaments will therefore count a lot toward those end-of-year standings.”
The Montreal tournament is a great opportunity for up-and-coming players to make their international debuts. Such was the case for Danik Allard (BC2), who made it to the bronze medal final on Thursday. The Québécois was defeated 6-1 by Abilio of Portugal; however, he has only been training with the national team for a few months.
“Danik’s teammates and family members were here to cheer him on for all of his matches, which really helped him,” explained Delisle, adding that the Défi sportif AlterGo has a great reputation in the international boccia world.
LEVINE ONE SPOT FROM THE TOP
Although Alison Levine would have preferred to win her gold medal through a formal victory on the court, the rule book decided otherwise. Nevertheless, she made a superb run to the top spot in the BC4 group.
The Montrealer won the gold medal by default when her South Korean opponent, Seongyuk Jang, received her second yellow card of the day for non-regulation balls.
After today’s first place finish, Levine now ranks second in the world in the BC4 category.
“Coming here, I knew that the gold medal was within my reach. I trained for it and felt confident throughout the whole competition. I stayed relaxed, which is why I was able to finish in first place. My level of confidence is what enabled me to win. I have to keep in mind that I didn’t make it all the way to the final just by chance,” she explained.
With this being a Paralympic year, it’s no surprise that Levine is already thinking ahead to the 2020 Games.
“I want to win a medal in Tokyo. It doesn’t matter what colour. For my first Games, in Rio, I was just so excited to be there that I didn’t think about my results. But in Tokyo, I know that I could win a medal and count myself among the best in the world.”
A DAZZLING PROGRESSION
It wasn’t all that long ago that Levine was just starting out in boccia. The man who introduced her to the sport and who is now her doubles teammate, boccia veteran Marco Dispaltro, is clearly impressed by the rapid progress of the woman he describes as the new captain of the Canadian team.
“One month after she started, she was already on the provincial team. We could see that she was going to progress quickly. She loves her sport, she performs well and she has such a strong drive. Even during our very first conversations, she was already picturing Paralympic medals and being number one in the world. She’s well on her way!”
In her semi-final match against Germany’s Boris Nicolai, it was Levine’s mental strength that enabled her to recover from a deficit and beat him 4-2. According to her coach, César Nicolai, Levine is also strong technically and excels in all types of throws.
“Every year she learns something new, and this year, it’s her resilience that has made all the difference. She stays in control, she plays the game she wants to play and no matter how she feels, she always performs well enough to beat her opponent,” concluded Nicolai, who is confident that his protégée is a contender for the podium at the upcoming Paralympic Games.
However, Levine’s work at the World Open is not yet done. She will be back on the court Friday and Saturday for the doubles event, along with her teammates Marco Dispaltro and Iulian Ciobanu.