When Nigel “Gramps” Murray’s crafty backhand snuck between the red balls of the Portuguese, his boccia team-mate David Smith, the sport’s pin-up with a red mohican, had particular cause for celebration.
The roll that won the mixed British BC1-BC2 team a bronze medal also heralded wedding bells for Smith after his childhood sweetheart, Kathryn Watkins, told the 23-year-old that she would marry him only if he brought home a medal.
If that sounds like tough love, it is peculiarly appropriate to boccia, the easily-overlooked Paralympic sport that appears to be a genteel form of indoor bowls with its slow pace and hushed crowds watching red and blue balls thrown towards a white jack.
Appearances are deceptive because boccia, its name derived from the Latin word for boss, is quietly vicious. As silence falls before a crucial roll, sledging among competitors is routine. So is ball-dropping, arm-slapping, time-wasting and forbidden chats with the team assistant.
If anyone needed convincing of boccia’s brutality, proof was provided by the presence of It’s A Royal Knockout veteran Prince Edward in a partisan crowd full of football flags to cheer on the British team. Led by their bandana-wearing captain João Fernandes, Portugal took a 1-0 lead in the first “end” (each game consists of six ends), helped by a spot of traditional gamesmanship.