- 12 Sep 08, 05:15 PM
At one end of the Paralympic spectrum you have sports like wheelchair rugby, rowing and wheelchair basketball where power and strength are key.
Then at the other end, you have sports like boccia.
Some people consider the sport unworthy of a place at the top table of Paralympic sport and dismiss it as just a friendly game played by people with cerebral palsy.
Yes, boccia may lack the physicality of some of the other 19 sports on offer in Beijing, but make no mistake, the skills and passion I saw on Friday as Britain won a glorious gold in the BC1/2 team play-off against Portugal assured me the sport fully deserves its place.
So what are Boccia's rules?
It's played by wheelchair users with cerebral palsy or related neurological conditions and is based on the French game of boules or petanque with the aim of the game to throw leather balls (coloured red or blue) as close as they can to the white target ball.
The balls can be moved with hands, feet or if the competitor's disability is severe, with an assistive device.
A match has four ends for individual or pairs matches and six for teams and at the completion of each end, the referee measures the distance of the balls closest to the jack and dishes out the points accordingly.
The team with the highest number of points at the end of play is the winner.
So, it sounds simple. Take it from me, it's not. I had a try in the build-up to the Athens Paralympics four years ago and embarrassed myself so much I've since left it to the experts.
Among those experts are Britain's Nigel Murray, a silver medallist in the BC2 individual competition earlier this week and his team-mates David Smith (complete with red mohican) and Dan Bentley, as well as Zoe Robinson - the fourth member of the team.
The British trio of Murray, Smith and Bentley took on Portugal, one of the world's top boccia-playing nations who won six medals in Athens and had a gold, two silvers and a bronze to their credit before this match.
In front of a crowd at the National Fencing Hall, which included Lord Coe and the Duke of Wessex, the Patron of Paralympics GB, the Brits made a nervy start.
Murray is the seasoned campaigner on the team - a former individual medallist in Sydney - and the leader on the court. His experience was even more important here with Smith (19), Bentley (24) and Robinson (18) all making their Games debut.
The master tactician encouraged his younger team-mates and they responded by taking the second end 2-0 and then upped their game in the third taking it 4-0 to lead 6-1 with some superb precise play.
Accuracy in sport is paramount at the best of times but these are athletes who do not have full control over their limb movement and yet can still propel the ball to within a hair's breath of the target.
Amid all the tension, the players showed the typical passion of sport when they played a winning shot and the crowd were also full of enthusiasm and appreciatiion of the efforts on show.
Having earned their advantage, GB maintained their composure and although they lost the fourth end 1-0, they won the fifth end 2-0 to put them 8-2 ahead and close to victory.
Portugal needed a spectacular final end to force a play-off, but fell short and it was Murray and co who were left celebrating a sweet sweet victory.
Smith, who made his international debut aged 14, is now a Paralympic champion and told me afterwards that some of the wheelchair basketball team came to watch one of their matches and were surprised at how exciting it was.
"It is a simple game but the skill and technical element and the tactics are extreme," he said.
Team manager and coach Jacqueline Lynn, wiping back the tears, said she hoped the win would help to increase the sport's profile towards London 2012.
"Boccia provides an outlet for very talented athletes with severe disabilities and it keeps them involved in sport," she said.
"Athletics and swimming have no longer a lot of classes for severe disabilities so I think boccia has a fantastic opportunity. It is a performance sport and attracts performance athletes.
"If it wasn't for boccia, very few of these athletes would have a chance to compete at a Paralympics."
But I think I will leave the final word to Nigel Murray, who goes home from Beijing with a gold and a silver and the sport in a healthy state.
"People with our disabilities are no different to any other indiviudal and we aspire to be the best in what we do," he said.
"There are other sports but we have found boccia the sport that suits us. We love playing it and being together and we are proud to be boccia players and are not ashamed to say it."
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