Ahead of the 2018 World Boccia Championships set to take place from 12-18 August in Liverpool, Great Britain, here are six storylines to follow:
1. Thai thrillers
Thailand is arguably the strongest boccia nation in the world, with four boasting top-three rankings.
The BC2 individual gold is expected to be a Thai showdown between No. 1 and reigning Paralympic champion Watcharaphon Vongsa and No. 3 defending Worlds gold medallist Worawut Saengampa. The two met in the finals at Rio 2016 and the 2017 Asia-Oceania Championships, with Vongsa winning both times.
World No. 4 and London 2012 Paralympic champion Pattaya Tadtong is a proven gold medal contender in the BC1. No. 6 compatriot Witsanu Huadpradit – who joined Tadtong for team gold in London – is another contender.
World No. 2 Pornchok Larpyen will try to break his bronze streak from Rio 2016 and the Asian Championships in the BC4 class.
2. Home hopes
Expect the crowds to raise their voices whenever David Smith and Stephen McGuire enter the courts.
BC1 player Smith did not get to celebrate a gold medal at his home Paralympics in 2012, but the Rio 2016 champion can do so in Liverpool.
Reigning world champion McGuire is No. 1 in the BC4 category and seems refocused after his Rio 2016 disappointment. Also watch for him as he tries to lead the BC4 pairs to a podium finish.
3. Team to watch
Antonio Leme, Evani Soares da Silva and Evelyn de Oliveira had a memorable gold medal victory at their home Paralympics, and the Brazilians have shown they can repeat that in Liverpool. The No. 1 BC3 trio have already won competitions this year in Montreal, Canada, and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
4. Erasing bad memories
Greece’s medal favourite Greg Polychronidis did not make it out of the quarter finals at the 2016 edition after leaving his pointer in the call room. Having reached the finals at the Rio 2016 Paralympics a few months later and leaving with silver, Polychronidis is overdue for an individual BC3 gold medal.
5. Potential surprises
Hong Kong’s Ho Yuen Kei had a strong Paralympic debut, reaching the quarter finals, where she lost to Polychronidis. But her time is soon to come. Ranked No. 5 in the world, Ho captured individual silver at the Asian-Oceania Championships last May, and secured victories at events in Montreal and Ise, Japan. But Ho is not the only BC3 talent seeking a major international break. Australia’s Daniel Michel recorded a dramatic victory at last year’s World Open in Kansas City, USA, and followed that up with another victory a month later in Bangkok, Thailand.
6. First world title
Slovakia’s Samuel Andrejcik had an outstanding Paralympic debut in Rio when he nearly upset Hong Kong’s Yuk Wing Leung in the BC4 final. At one of the major international tournaments before the 2018 Worlds in Povoa, Portugal, the Slovakian showed his form but fell short to Croatia’s Davor Komar in the final. Andrejcik’s golden time could come this month.