Months of training have paid off for Great Britain, Belgium and Slovakia as they qualify for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games after winning at the 2015 Boccia European Team and Pairs Championships.
Hosted at Surrey Sports Park as part of UK Sport's National Lottery #EveryRoadtoRio programme, 14 countries competed over the weekend (July 25th and 26th) in BC1/BC2 Team, BC3 Pairs and BC4 Pairs events.
The first day of competition in the pool games bought great matches and drama in equal measure. Great Britain made it comfortably through to the semi-finals in the BC1/BC2 Team and BC4 Pairs events, but it was a surprise exit for the British world number ones and third seed Portugal in the BC3 Pairs.
In the semi-finals of the BC1/BC2 Team competition, it was familiar territory for Great Britain as they took on Portugal, having played them in the final of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games and the bronze medal match at London 2012 Paralympic Games. After a strong performance throughout, Great Britain booked their place in the final with an 11-4 victory. In the other semi-final match, Slovakia overcame Spain to win 8-2.
In a tense first half of the final match the two teams were tied at 1-1 going into end three. By the final end, David Smith, Nigel Murray and Joshua Rowe of Great Britain had fought their way to a 5-2 lead, taking full advantage of a Slovakian violation to win three points on one end. Great Britain played a defensive final end, winning the match 5-4. In the Bronze medal match Portugal were the dominant team, beating Spain 10-3.
David Smith, captain of Great Britain's BC1/BC2 Team said: "We've been building up to this all year; our main goal was to win and take the qualification spot. Now we've got that our focus will shift to working towards winning Gold in Rio. There's a great camaraderie in the team, we're all working towards the same goal of being the best in the world and creating a legacy for GB Boccia."
In the BC3 Pairs, Spain took on Belgium in the final after closely contested semi final matches against France and Greece respectively. Belgium were a commanding force, becoming European Champions with a 7-1 victory. In the Bronze medal match, World number 4 side Greece narrowly triumphed over the surprise package of the competition France 4-2.
Evie Edwards and Stephen McGuire of Great Britain stormed into the BC4 Pairs final following their 10-0 win against Russia. They met Slovakia in the final - and for the second time in the championship having beaten them at the pool stage - who grabbed a spot in the final after a winning 5-3 performance against Hungary.
The two teams gave the crowd a thrilling final taking it all the way to a deciding last end; it was Slovakia who took the match by one point 4-3 with the decisive shot by World number 2 Samuel Andrecijk taking the game out of GB’s reach. In the Bronze medal match, Russia and Hungary took it to a tiebreaker, with Hungary holding their nerve to take the win.
Matt Hammond, Performance Director at GB Boccia said: "It's great to have two teams heading to Rio with the BC1/BC2 Team directly qualifying and, by our estimations, the BC4 Pairs having enough ranking points to qualify. Going forward we'll be working with the players ahead of the World Individual Championships in Beijing next year and maximising opportunities for the BC3 Pairs to get to Rio as they are great players."
John Dowson, Chair of GB Boccia said: "The Championships has been an enormous success, running without a hitch and receiving positive feedback from the visiting European teams. We've also seen a bigger media impact than previous competitions with live streaming and ongoing social media activity widening our reach. It's been a real team effort between UK Sport, GB Boccia, Boccia England and the University of Surrey to run the event and it has really showcased the UK and GB Boccia as hosts."