Tom Dowan was one the millions who tuned into watch the London 2012 Paralympics. However, for Dowan, the Paralympics was not an education in disability sport.
The 17-year old, who is aiming to compete in Rio in 2016, is already a two time national champion in boccia and six months on from the Games, he’s one of England’s finest players preparing for the National Championships, which will be held in Sheffield at Ponds Forge this May.
The city has become an important hub for boccia in recent years. Team GB use the EIS (English Institute of Sport) for training camps and talent selection trials, whilst as well as hosting the National Championships, Ponds Forge housed the Canadian team in the lead up to last year’s Paralympics.
Dowan, born in Wakefield but now living in Gloucestershire, won the West Regional competition in February to qualify for the National Championships. He has noticed a surge in interest in boccia since London 2012, where he watched his Team GB friends pick up two medals.
“The Paralympics has done nothing but good for disability sport,” he said.
“Interest in boccia has definitely improved. Websites like Twitter allow athletes and new followers to discuss the sport and tactics, and athletes’ experiences. It’s fantastic.”
Boccia has made huge strides forward since the Paralympics, none more so than the introduction of a world governing body, BISFed (Boccia International Sports Federation), for the first time in January.
Scottish champion Scott McCowan, who competed at the Games, agrees the Paralympics helped raise the sport’s profile and believes BISFed could revolutionise boccia.
“Boccia has drawn more interest since London 2012,” he enthused.
“Lots of people have said it was their highlight of the Games, and that’s from people who’d never heard of it.
“The Scotland team recently had a day where they invited some players from the development squads to join them. There were a number of players who had only been playing a matter of months.
“Whether they had been directly inspired by the Paralympics, who knows? But the signs are certainly there.
“I think that the new governing body may be the best thing to happen to boccia.
“It’s still early days but the signs are very positive. For too long, boccia was being run by an organisation that didn’t always do the best job, despite doing its very best to promote and improve the game.
“This was mainly because of the number of sports it had under its umbrella which were getting more worldwide attention than boccia.
“Under BISFed, we have boccia decisions being made by boccia people.”
Because he’s Scottish, McCowan, who is a studying for a degree in Psychology and Sports Studies at the University of Stirling, won’t be competing at Ponds Forge.
He could however face his friend Dowan if both qualify for the British Singles Championships later this year.
Dowan will receive his invitation for the event by achieving a top three finish in Sheffield. Having finished second last year, he’s confident of his chances.
“I’m very excited about the Championships,” he beams.
“Ponds Forge is a fantastic place to play. It’s a great venue.
“Having won the two tournaments I’ve played in this season, I’m hoping to hit a bit of form in the Nationals.
“I finished second last year, so I’m hoping to go one better. I’d be more than happy with a top 3 finish though, which will allow me to qualify for the British Singles Championships later this year.”
The English National Championships take place from May 11-12. Entrance is free for spectators. For more information, visit http://www.bocciaengland.org.uk/.
- Tom Dowan’s Twitter profile
- Scott McCowan’s Twitter profile
- BISFed website
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