The world’s best boccia players will battle for gold at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, where they seek to solidify their names in the sport’s history. Here are eight of them.
David Smith (GBR)
The Brit has come a long way since his Paralympic debut in 2008 at 19 years old; to becoming a Paralympic champion eight years later and world No. 1 in the BC1 category.
He was part of the British team that earned gold in the team BC1-2 at Beijing 2008, and it seemed to set the stage for an individual title at his home 2012 Games in London. But it was not meant to be, as Smith lost in the final to long-time Thai rival Pattaya Tadtong. Still, Smith came back stronger. In 2014, he won his first individual world title and finally, after three trips, added the Paralympic gold in Rio. The Brit went on to claim the 2018 World Championships title on home soil in Liverpool, followed by a European crown a year later. He has solidified his grip as the top athlete in his division entering Tokyo 2020.
Evelyn de Oliveira (BRA)
Having picked up boccia in 2010, the Suzano native has been a fierce fighter in a competitive BC3 category. She enjoyed a successful Paralympic debut on home court in 2016 as part of the gold medal winning pairs BC3 squad. It was a grand celebration for her, as they took down world No.1 South Korea in front of home fans.
Oliveira remains one of the top athletes from the Americas region, having taken individual silver in the 2019 Regional Championships and gold at the Lima 2019 Parapan American Games.
Worawut Saengampa (THA)
Saengampa was close to double gold at Rio 2016, where he helped put Thailand atop the podium in the team BC1-2 event. But he could not repeat that joy in the individual BC2 gold medal match, falling shy to his veteran compatriot Watcharaphon Vongsa.
However, the 2016 Paralympics seemed like a warm-up stage for the young athlete, who has shown tremendous growth. He captured the individual world title in 2018 and added a gold from the Asian Para Games later that year to sit at No. 1 in the world.
Alison Levine (CAN)
A protégé of Canadian Paralympic bronze medallist Marco Dispaltro, Levine has blossomed to become one of the top female athletes in the mixed-gender sport. She is the first woman to reach the No. 1 status in the BC4 category.
Levine came close to fighting for a Paralympic medal in 2016 but lost in the quarterfinals. She has since made multiple podium finishes at various events. Her first major medal still eludes her, and there is no doubt she is going for two – individual and pairs BC4 – in Tokyo.
Grigorios Polychronidis (GRE)
Polychronidis, who also goes by Greg, took up boccia with the dream of participating in his home Paralympics at Athens 2004. That dream became a reality after he found himself in the quarter-finals of the individual BC3 event in Athens. But reaching the Paralympics was not the end goal.
In the next three Paralympics, Polychronidis has felt the heartbreak of missing out on an individual title. The Greek finally secured his first major individual gold at the 2018 World Championships, where he beat South Korea’s Howon Jeong, the very opponent whom he lost to in the gold medal match at the 2016 Paralympics. After a European title in 2019, the veteran athlete has experience on his side as he targets Paralympic glory.
Michaela Balcova (SVK)
Balcova joined the Slovakian national team in 2014 and has been a valuable component in the country’s lethal pairs BC4 force. She and Paralympic individual champion Samuel Andrejcik have been mainstays on the team that have been victorious at the 2016 Paralympics, 2018 Worlds and 2019 Europeans. Her role as a team player is evident in Slovakia’s No. 1 position in the pairs BC4 category, and it will be even more vital as they go for back-to-back titles in Tokyo.
Hidetaka Sugimura (JPN)
The Japanese team captain led his side to a silver medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, and the country will once again turn to him for a reason to celebrate this summer.
Sugimura earned a bronze medal at the 2016 World Championships in Beijing, China, his first individual medal at an international competition. At the Worlds two years later, the Japanese star lost out to Thailand’s Worawut Saengampa in the semi-finals. But he did leave with a medal, defeating Slovakia’s Robert Mezik for the bronze. The two-time Paralympian and No. 2 world ranked player is in position to give the host nation a boccia medal on home soil.
Yuen Kei Ho (HKG)
The Hong Kong athlete finished fifth in the BC3 class at her Paralympic debut in Rio and has since been a consistent podium finisher at international competitions. She fell short in the finals of the 2017 Asia-Oceania Regional Championships, losing to South Korea’s Hansoo Kim in the last ball. She had a strong finish on the round robins of the 2018 Worlds but could not deliver in the playoffs.
Still, the world No. 2 should not be overlooked, especially after a solid 2019 season that included an Asia-Oceania individual title.