How Paralympic boccia medallists and assistants create a dream team

In the BC3 category, Para athletes can compete together with an assistant – and they take the podium together at the Paralympic Games. With the boccia competition heating up at the first European Para Championships in Rotterdam, we introduce you to three pairs putting on an amazing show 10 Aug 2023
Adam Peska and Ivana Peskova smiling with their gold medals
Ivana Peskova and Adam Peska were crowned Paralympic champions on their Games debut at Tokyo 2020
ⒸKiyoshi Ota/Getty Images
By Ayano Shimizu | The IPC

Ivana Peskova gets emotional when she thinks back to the time she put a gold medal around her son Adam Peska’s neck at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Standing on the same podium, she picked up another gold medal for herself. Peskova is Adam’s sport assistant in boccia. Together they represent the Czech Republic on the court, share the podium and celebrate victories both big and small. 

In boccia, players deliver coloured leather balls as close as possible to a white target ball, known as the “jack”. And in the BC3 category, athletes can use ramps and other devices to deliver a ball onto the court.  

They can also compete with an assistant, who positions the ball according to the players’ instructions. But one important thing – assistants must keep their back to the court, which makes communication and trust between the athlete and the assistant extremely important. 

Czech Republic’s golden duo 

Adam shot to stardom at Tokyo 2020, winning the individual BC3 event on his Paralympic debut. He beat Greece’s Grigorius Polychronidis in the final in a tie-break and received the gold medal from his mother as part of the COVID-19 safety measures during the Games. 

“I am absolutely glad that I was able to start my Paralympic career (that way). I didn’t think before the Paralympic Games that I could win gold because they were my first Games,” he recalled.  

Adam and Ivana proved the perfect team at Tokyo 2020 Ⓒ Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

The athlete uses headgear with a pointer that allows him to deliver the ball. Whenever the pair compete at a new venue, they test how far each ball rolls from different ramp positions and write the measurement on a paper that Adam refers to during matches. 

“I’m glad that I have the opportunity to play boccia with my mom because if she doesn’t want to play boccia with me, then she would never play it because I need assisting,” the athlete said.

“She is also a trainer because she recently ended a course. It’s important that I can discuss about the tactics and the training hours.” 

“I love sports. I love all kinds of sports so I’m glad that I can do one of them. I have goals including medals and I’m going step by step toward my goals. It’s important to have goals in the future.” 

Being a sport assistant is not an easy task – especially if you’re the mother of the athlete - and the pair sometimes disagree during training. But Peskova knows exactly why Adam is a rising sensation in the sport. 

“Adam is so good because he is not selfish, he is not arrogant, and he is always friendly with others. But he is determined. He likes to win medals and cheer after winning,” she explained. 

The Paralympic champions are hungry for more success Ⓒ Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

Greece’s miracle couple 

When Katerina Polychronidis (formerly Patroni) was asked by her then-boyfriend Greg Polychronidis to also become his “pair in sports”, she was excited and honoured. In their first international competition in 2015, they won gold.  

It was the start of a glittering career, as they claimed four medals across two Paralympic Games, while also getting married and starting a family off the court.  

Katarina and Greg Polychronidis are a perfect partnership both on and off the court Ⓒ Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

At the European Para Championships, they had matching shoes with their names “Greg” and “Kat” stitched on. 

“It’s like a miracle playing with her, because you play, and you compete with someone that you love the most. You share all this happiness of the victory and the sadness of the loss,” Greg says.

“I’m happy because maybe the most interesting feelings that I have because of the sport, I share it with the person I love.” 

Since athletes have a limited time to deliver the ball, there are times when he only says one word. But Kat still understands what he means, which allows him to take time to think about his tactics instead of giving instructions on the court.  

The husband and wife team have four Paralympic boccia medals from two Games Ⓒ Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

“I take all the decisions but since I cannot move, this is the person who moves around, who helps me with aiming, who puts the ball on the ramp, who makes my head pointer in the way that I could push the ball from the ramp,” he said of Katerina’s role.  

“So, it’s like, as I call it, I am the brain, and the ramp operator is the moving assistant.” 

Katerina says being a sporting couple comes with challenges. They train together many days a week without vacation and they also raise a daughter Valentina, who was born just months before Tokyo 2020. 

“We have a very good relationship. Our characters match very well. We stay happy and co-operate 24 hours a day,” she said. “He coached me very well. It helped that we are together all the time at home as well. We talk about boccia all the time. 

“He is a good coach, and I was a good student. We are a great combination.” 

Perfect harmony of the Hellenes 

Anna Ntenta says “we are like one person” when she describes what it is like to compete with her mother Christina on the court. She has captured two bronze medals in the pairs event at both the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. 

“My mother started boccia at the same time so we’re growing together. She is my assistant and my mother is like me - she likes difficult things,” said Ntenta, who was one of Greece’s flagbearers at the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony. 

Christiana (left) and Anna (second left) were flagbearers for Greece at Tokyo 2020 Ⓒ Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

“(During competition) I speak normally. I tell everything to her because in the game she isn’t allowed to see.” 

Asked for what is necessary to form a successful partnership on the court, Christina says “love, patience and perseverance.” 

“You need all three. You can’t do well if you miss one,” she explained. “When I play with Anna, it is my great joy.” 

With the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games taking place in just over a year, the athlete is already starting to feel excited as she prepares to challenge for the podium with her mother.  

“You have to have the heart of a champion, to take the same way when you win and the same way when you lose. That’s what it takes to be a champion, I think,” she said.  

“I’m a little bit nervous because it’s difficult to play with a good player. But we did it two times (competing at the Games) and we’re going to do it again.” 

Paris 2024 will be held between 28 August and 8 September, with boccia being one of the 22 sports contested in the French capital. 

All three pairs are currently competing at the European Para Championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands, with the boccia finals taking place on 12 and 13 August.  

Visit the European Para Championships website for full results and to watch live coverage.