The Olympics may be over, but the Paralympics are still going strong over in Brazil. Even though the US isn’t doing as well in the Paralympics as they did in the regular Olympics (I’m sure a lack of Phelps isn’t helping), it’s still worth your time to check out what these awesome athletes are up to. The Paralympics grew out of a small gathering of British World War II veterans in 1948. Since then it has grown to be one of the largest athletic events in the world.
Often referred to as “bocce ball” in the United States, boccia is a sport of strategy and precision. Think, shuffleboard or the summer equivalent of curling. Even though boccia is often thought of as warm weather beach time activity, it was originally designed for those with cerebral palsy.
The goal is to get one’s own-colored ball as close as possible to the “jack”—a smaller white ball. One team goes and then the other. This can be a one v. one match, a two v. two match, or a three v. three match. As mentioned, you want to get your ball as close as possible to the jack, but once you’ve rolled your ball, the enemy team has a chance to knock it out of position. Thus, when making your roll you have to take more into consideration than just getting close to the jack. For instance, you have to think about how best to position your ball so that you are blocking your opponent’s ball from the jack or protecting your teammate’s ball that is already out on the field sitting right next to the jack. Once each team has gone, it’s considered the end of a round. The team with the ball closest to the jack at the end of a round gets one point. But that’s not all. Teams are awarded additional points for every ball of theirs that is closer to the jack than those of the opponents.
This is one of my favorite sports. When I was younger I remember playing a simulated version of goalball in high school. The teacher gave us a quick demo of the rules and then we all put on blindfolds. Even at the Paralympics where the athletes playing goalball are blind or visually impaired, its required for all players to wear opaque eyeshades to guarantee fair-play. In 1946, Hans Lorenzen of Austria and Sepp Reindle of Germany invented the game as a way to rehabilitate veterans who had suffered visual impairments during World War II.
Goalball is a game of heightened awareness: both touch and hearing. Three players are positioned at the ends of a volleyball court-sized arena. Behind them, following the whole length of the backline, are goals. Various markings on the court have string taped to them to help players orient themselves. The goal? To bowl a 1.25 kilogram ball so that it bypasses the opposing team’s defenders and lands in the goal. But this isn’t any ordinary ball. Inside of it are bells to help players track the movements of it. With sound being so important, only the athletes and the referees are allowed to make noise during play. The result is a religious-like silence that falls onto the crowd, forcing everyone to concentrate on the game at hand.
Football 5-a-side (Blind Football)
Most football (read: soccer) matches are so loud that you can barely hear yourself speak. Football 5-a-side is dead quiet. This one’s another sport for those that are blind or visually impaired. Again, opaque eyeshades are required in order to ensure fair-play. Again, sound is absolutely crucial, as a noise-making device is built into the ball, and so the spectators are required to remain silent while the ball is in play.
The game uses modified FIFA rules. For instance, teams are comprised of 5 players (4 fielders and 1 goalie), the pitch is much smaller than that of a traditional one, the pitch is usually comprised of a flat material (not grass), and kickboards are placed all around the pitch to prevent a ball from easily passing out of bounds. That’s not to say that a ball can’t go out of bounds, but it’s definitely a lot tougher. Football 5-a-side had it’s first Paralympics appearance in Athens 2004. Since then, Brazil has proven to be the prized contender with the only Gold medal awarded (the rest of the games have been contested). I love watching 5-a-side as combines something of the familiar with something of the unfamiliar.
These aren’t the only cool sports to be featured in the Paralympics. Every event has its own divisions and subdivisions that cater to the specific disabilities of participating athletes. Please, if you haven’t checked out the Paralympics yet, do so. Despite the striving of Paralympic athletes for equal treatment, there still is a large gap in funding.