Paralympian Alison Levine reacting to a boccia move.

Paralympian Alison Levine on Boccia

Release Date: March 23, 2023

Category: Boccia | Podcast

We’re headed to the boccia court this week to learn more about the sport from 2x Paralympian Alison Levine. Alison competes for Team Canada in the BC4 category in both individual and pairs competitions. We talk about how the sport works, plus, a healthy dose of ball talk!

Follow Alison on Twitter and Insta, and check out her website.

In our history moment this week, Jill looks at the goalball tournaments from Seoul 1988, which includes one team getting expelled from the Games.

In our visit to TKFLASTAN, we have updates from:

In Paris 2024 news, the torch relay plans to have fewer torches, Lotto Belgium House is a go (it’s ticketed, so you may want to subscribe to get program updates), and the Paris 2024 volunteer portal is now open for applications. We have details on that process and what to expect. Remember, if you apply, let us know how it went!

Thanks so much for listening, and until next time, keep the flame alive!

Photo courtesy of Alison Levine.


Note: This is an uncorrected machine-generated transcript. It contains errors. Please do not quote from the transcript; use the audio file as the record of note.

Paralympian Alison Levine on Boccia (Episode 279)

[opening music]

[00:00:00] Jill:Hello, and welcome to another episode of Keep the Flame Alive, the podcast for fans of the Olympics and Paralympics. If you love the games, we are the show for you. Each week we share stories from athletes and people behind the scenes to help you have more fun watching the games.

I am your host, Jill Jaracz, joined as always by my lovely co-host, Alison Brown. Alison, hello, how are you?

[00:00:38] Alison: Hello. I’m getting ready for Pollen season.

[00:00:43] Jill: Oh, that does not sound like it’s as fun as you’re making it out to be .

[00:00:47] Alison: Yeah, so I, I may sound a little like I’ve been smoking Marlboros again. , so let me, just head that off.

No, I have not been smoking again. the trees are starting to bloom here in Connecticut.

[00:00:59] Jill: Oh, man. You know, over the weekend I saw a Ukrainian biopic based on the story of Oxana Chu, who was a visually impaired track and field star. she was an able-bodied runner. She and her family got in a bad car accident and her vision was affected by that, and so, she still insisted on running and showed up at the track.

Well, a. Her little sister, poor little sister, who did not seem like she cared about running all that much, became like the running guide , and had to go with her. I felt bad for that. And then Oxana was kind of insistent that she keep trying to run again because she could see the lines enough to kind of stay in line.

And then her coach was one of these, you know, good old Soviet coaches that were like, don’t embarrass. and, and you just go, oh my gosh, how and why is that so prevalent? And still so prevalent in the early two thousands. Right? And then she ended up moving to Kiev and getting on the national team, and they, they found that she could be in the Paralympics so I will say this, they got to the Beijing scenes where they showed like the bird’s nest from the outside. I lost it. I just started crying and crying and crying from seeing all the Beijing stuff.

[00:02:19] Alison: I thought you were gonna go somewhere with pollen with this blind runner.

[00:02:24] Jill: No. No. I wish, I wish I could connect it, but I can’t . Well, maybe the Soviet

[00:02:29] Alison: coach was smoking those filter list Soviet cigarettes. I was like, Hey, you got the run and not the bad as us.

[00:02:36] Jill: But yeah, I was very surprised that I had all the feels when, when I saw all the Beijing stadiums and the inside and the outside and, and I don’t know what they actually filmed there or not, but they had enough to show the, a little bit of the city.

And of course it was like, oh, is that what the, the downtown looks like? But would recommend, it’s a pretty decent biopic if we could find him. Maybe it, maybe it shows up in movie club one year, but it is called Pulse.

Alison Levine Interview

[00:03:02] Jill: Speaking of Paralympics, we are talking with another Paralympian today. This is very exciting.

We’re talking with Alison Levine, a Paralympian who competes in the sport of boccia as representative of Canada. She competes in the BC four category, which covers disabilities that affect the whole body other than cerebral palsy. In 2019, she became the first woman to be ranked number one in the BC four category, A feat that can’t be repeated because that’s when men and women competed together and now they have their own separate divisions for individual play.

At last year’s world championships, she placed fourth in the women’s individual competition and third of the Paris event. In terms of Paralympic competition, Alison competed at Rio 2016 where she placed fifth in the individual and sixth in the pairs and at Tokyo 2020, which was a tough event for her.

She did not make it to the medal round in either the pair or the individual competitions. She is looking to take the court by storm though. Come Paris 2024. We spoke with Alison about how the sport of boccia and its balls work. Take a listen.

Alison Levine, thank you so much for joining us. Boccia for Tokyo 2020, that was a lot the first time that a lot of our listeners saw boccia played and fell in love with the sport. So let’s talk a little bit about the basics.

First, let’s start with the court. can you describe the court layout. place where players sit to throw from and then the playing field, but there’s a lot of lines going on. So what’s going on there?

[00:04:37] Alison Levine: Yeah, there’s quite a few lines. Baja court is pretty much that I mentions of a volleyball court.

So the playing surface is 10 meters long by six meters wide. And in front of that playing surface, there are six throwing boxes. . Each throwing box is one meter by two and a half meters, [00:05:00] and athletes have to be inside their respective boxes when they throw. The reason why there’s six boxes is because bacha can be paired in individuals.

in pairs and in teams. So for teams it’s three on three, so you need six boxes pairs, two on two, so four boxes. And uh, individually it’s one-on-one, so you only need two boxes, but the court’s already taped up and lines are already there.

[00:05:24] Jill: If you’re one-on-one or even two on two, do you get to choose which one you throw from or do you have to throw from the same box every game.

[00:05:32] Alison Levine: So there’s designated boxes. If you’re playing red in individuals, you’re in box number. I have to picture it in my head. three and blue, you’d be in box four for pairs. , it alternates, but starting in box two. So red, blue, red, blue. And for teams it’s red, blue, red blue, red, blue. Oh, interesting. Okay. Yeah.

Furthermore, on the court there’s a V line, which goes from 1.5 meters in the middle. Up to 3.5 at the sides. That line is there because you have to throw your jack the white ball past that line for it to be valid. If not, you could throw the jack super close and that would make absolutely no sense.

So that’s why the V line is there. And then finally, there’s a cross with a box in the middle of the court. , if the jackets knocked outta bounds, the jack is placed on that cross. Or if there is an extra end needed for a tie break, the end is played with the jacks starting in the box.

[00:06:32] Jill: So if the jack goes outta bounds and it goes into that box Yeah. Like what happens to all of the scoring before that? Because now the balls Oh, the, okay.

[00:06:43] Alison Levine: It’s still technically the same because the score is only calculated at the end of each end.

So once all balls have been thrown, it’s whoever has how. Closest balls to the jack that gets the points. So if, let’s say all the balls had been, let’s say almost all the balls had been thrown and it had been played really close to the line but let’s say four meters onto the court all the way on the left side, and then with their last ball.

they knock the jack outta bounds. The jack is gonna go to the middle, but they’re still gonna measure the balls that are super far away to see who is scoring, to determine who throws and or how many points there are. So the balls can technically, I mean, it is a strategy. we’ve done it before in a game where you have one ball left and you see that, oh, technically if I knock the jack out, I’m already scoring too, because I have balls closer to the middle of the court.

Go for it. And then you. , you can score that way as well. it’s not a very common tactic, though.

[00:07:44] Alison Brown: It feels like curling in a lot of the things that you’re saying. I feel like we’re using a lot of the same terminology.

[00:07:52] Alison Levine: It’s very similar to curling. I’d say it’s much more dynamic because curling, they alternate throws.

Wherein boccia, you don’t, it’s whoever is furthest from the jack keeps playing until they’re closer or until they run outta balls. So that creates a really different strategic aspect to it, as well as our house, so to say. You know, the thing you’re aiming for is a ball, so it rolls. You can knock it, you can move it, you can play it short, you can play it long.

There’s whole different, strategies to it.

[00:08:21] Jill: Let’s talk about the balls because one of the things I saw in a random article about new bacha rules is that the balls have to come from a certain manufacturer.

And somebody was talking about how it takes a while to get used to balls. So what are they made of? And. Do you have to get used to?

[00:08:40] Alison Levine: So the newest rule is that World boccia has decided that all our boccia balls have to be sanctioned.

So they’ve given licenses to certain boccia ball companies, and all our balls have to have that manufactured stamp and the world watch a logo stamp. So, , everyone across the world has the same access to the same types of balls, and there’s no advantage or disadvantage for some countries compared to others.

This, however, was a very big change for athletes and a hard adjustment period. I think some of us are still adjusting even because while there have always been rules for balls, such as, you know, weights or circumference, how well they roll, texture, sticky material. you get used to your balls that you know you can, with your eyes closed in your tray.

Know which ball is which, which one you’re gonna use for which type of shot when you break them in, the leather becomes softer and they roll differently. The seams of the balls tend to round out over time. So when you suddenly have a new set of balls, it, it’s like, it’s foreign to you and while you know it, it remains boccia, you can’t necessarily, at the beginning with new balls, do those [00:10:00] magical shots that you need to be able to do just because it feels. So different, but the thing about the rule is that everyone was affected. So it was a le level playing field. The quality of the game definitely went down a little bit after the first year, but that was to be expected and has made its way back up already.

[00:10:20] Alison Brown: Okay. So you have your own personal set of boccia balls?

[00:10:23] Alison Levine: Yes. Yes, for sure. Every athlete has. .

[00:10:26] Alison Brown: Obviously you have a red and a blue, but do you have multiple sets that you travel with?

[00:10:32] Alison Levine: Yes. Yeah. Well, most people travel with around a set and a half. I travel with two sets. My teammate Marco used to travel with like three, four sets cuz he’s a little crazy that way.

But you never know in different climates the tests that they do before each game to the balls. Some of them you don’t, you don’t know with the humidity if it’s gonna affect the balls and it’s gonna be a bit borderline. You don’t wanna take the chance and use that ball. So you wanna swap it for another.

You may get to a competition and realize, oh, this is a really fast court cuz you’re playing on wood when you’ve been training on. , let’s say rubber matting and oh, maybe, you know, it’s super fast. I want a, a squishier ball, so it doesn’t roll as much. It’s good to have that, and then obviously in case something happens to a ball, you need to be able to replace it.

[00:11:22] Alison Brown: So are the balls stamped with your name or is it a symbol like a golf ball?

[00:11:28] Alison Levine: I do have a, I have a little a. Logo where the a and the L is kind of connected and it’s a nice little um, everyone kind of has some type of identification mark in competition, it, it doesn’t matter because if you’re playing red your opponent is blue, so you’re not gonna mix them up.

But at training, especially if we have the same brands of balls, our poor sports assistants that are picking up the balls, you know, there’s a big cluster of them all over there and they have to sort out who’s is who’s. They very much appreciate our, our logos. .

[00:11:57] Alison Brown: And now between each ball, are they numbered for you so you remember?

Oh, number one is squishier, or number two is stiffer

[00:12:05] Alison Levine: for quite a few athletes? Yes. For myself, no. It tends to be the athletes that have an assistant with them, so they’re telling their assistant ball one, ball two, ball three, ball four, because they’re in my tray. I just know, and over time, if one gets worked a little bit more than the other, ball one may become ball two.

So I don’t wanna mark them up with. .

[00:12:26] Alison Brown: And how long does a set of balls take to break in and how long does it last?

[00:12:31] Alison Levine: That is a good question. Some brands actually come already worked. Uh, Not, not really worked, but it like softer material. The real leather ones tend to be. , much more supple right from the beginning.

You could pretty much play with them right out when you first get them, but some of them are really difficult to break in and it takes a long time for it to become round, talking like three, four months for it to become comfortable feeling. And others, like I said, are ready within a matter of weeks pretty much.

[00:13:05] Jill: Okay. So when you get a new set of balls, are they all the same and you make the squishiness and the hardness with how you play with them? Or are they just kind of different because of what’s what they’re made of?

[00:13:18] Alison Levine: What they’re made of? And you can order from the manufacturer. I want them super soft, soft, medium hard, extra hard.

some manufacturers. only have soft, medium hard. Those are for the more basic, you know, beginners. But they will be able to supply you with different softness, but it’s still often not enough. When it comes to you, you’re allowed to work your balls so that they’re softer, you’re allowed to work them so that become rounder because like I said, the seams tend to not be super tight at the beginning.

They need to kind of round up the rule with bis. The rule with world boccia when it comes to modifying your boccia balls is that everything still has to fit into their parameters, and you can’t add anything to a ball that wasn’t there.

So you can remove some of the pellets inside to make it softer or lighter. As long as you don’t add anything else, as long as you don’t ruin the seams or take the seams apart when you’re doing it, everything has to be original from the manufacturer. You’re just taking away a little bit of weight of their pellets.

So I couldn’t, let’s say, add pellets from another company’s ball into this ball to add weight because that would be considered tempering. adding something to the ball that wasn’t previously there. So there is some play within the ball rules such as weight, if you want your weight a little bit on the lighter end or heavier end, but you have to be careful really to keep the integrity of the game there is to keep the balls as you get them and just work them by throwing them, throwing them, throw.

[00:14:58] Alison Brown: Have there been controversies? [00:15:00] Who knew our whole interview was gonna be about boccia balls? ? Have there been controversies of people you know, Vaseline the ball like in baseball?

[00:15:09] Alison Levine: So the reason why World boccia implemented all these ball rules now it’s that licensing rule in the last five years though it.

This new test is added. This new test is added. This new test is added. It’s because people were doing anything they wanted to the balls to gain an unfair advantage. So whether that being, making their own balls completely so that they are the only people in the world that has this type of ball, to adding varnish around the balls so that they would really explode the game.

When they hit other balls, there were people. Amazingly world boccia had to change the rule book to specify that by definition a ball must roll because people were taking out so much pellets and they would put in a weight in it so that they would still meet the weight, but that their ball would just slide across the court.

So once it was on the jack, no one could move it. And it was, it was honestly really. really disgusting to see, you know, the integrity of the sport just went away. People that were watching were like, Hey, this is ridiculous. And a world Bach just stepped up and immediately identified that as an issue and changed the rules and put rules in place.

Now our balls are tested before every single one of our games in the call room. Some of the. A little excessive, not gonna lie, but they’re figuring out where they have to go to make sure that our integrity of the sport is still there.

[00:16:39] Jill: Well, I found our new. Volunteer roll there. We have a, when the games are on, we have a segment.

That’s what’s the volunteer or officiating job we would like to do. I’ve just found another one to put on the list. . So Bo Ball tester will be it.

[00:16:56] Alison Brown: Yeah. Does, does the Bocher ball roll ?

[00:16:59] Alison Levine: Yeah, exactly. And they’ve come up with a pretty genius test for it. Rolling. It’s like a small little ramp.

the referee puts the ball at the top and it has to fall off the edge of the ramp and rotate as it falls in order for it to be deemed legal.

[00:17:13] Jill: Wow, that’s amazing. Okay. What does the set of bunch of balls cost

[00:17:18] Alison Levine: set of bocher balls? Cost really varies. If you’re a beginner starting the game, you and you just wanna play recreationally, you can get a set.

$300, but don’t expect very round balls or anything like that and not license sanction for international use. Um, I should mention that the licensing stamp is only for international players. So if you wanna play even in Canada, that’s not a requirement. It has to still meet the standards of a Baja ball.

But you know, we’re not gonna make people change all their balls and spend money. You want the sport to still be open to a lot of people when you get to the higher. , you’re talking average $90 a ball, and if it’s 13 balls per set, it really varies on the company whether you’re getting real leather, synthetic.

If it’s a company that does mass production or who does each ball by hand, there are some balls that, there’s actually this one company, I won’t name them, but it’s abs. I say it’s ridiculous. What are they sowing it with? Platinum thread. It’s $178 per ball. I mean, I don’t know who was actually using these, cuz that’s absolutely insane, but it’s definitely expensive.

you as an athlete wanna find which ball works for you. You don’t have to order a whole set at once, luckily, but you have to try out different brands and each brand has different types within their. inventory that are different than one another. So you have to try out all these different types and it, it costs a lot of money.

But once you know like, oh, okay, I feel best with this, it becomes easier cuz then you don’t have to keep trying out all these different balls.

[00:18:58] Alison Brown: Do you have to check them or can you bring them on your carry on.

[00:19:02] Alison Levine: Never put your boccia balls in checked luggage. Because if they get lost, you are in big trouble.

They’re also kind of, temperature sensitive. if you live in Canada, never leave the bo balls in the car because if they get too hot, they’re gonna actually get a little bit bigger. And if it’s anywhere not in the summertime, they get cold and they get hard and they get just not great.

So you don’t want them in the belly of the plane.

[00:19:28] Jill: Tossing the ball. Does the type of throw you do depend on what the play is in front of you? Like underhand or spin

[00:19:37] Alison Levine: yeah. It, it’s a very complex question. Mm-hmm. , because most boccia athletes have only either one type of throw that they can do, or maybe two, because boccia is a sport that’s for people with the highest level of disability. We have impairment in all four of our limbs. We’re not able to.

Like [00:20:00] you said, spin shot, like we’re not able to, to do that. We don’t have enough function to physically be able to do that. There is a category, the BC two s and the BC one s that have cerebral palsy. Some can throw overhand on underhand, and some prefer overhand for more precision because you know it’s closer to your eye.

It’s kind of easier to aim, and underhand and general generates more power, so they’ll use the underhand shots. more power in the BC four class, which is my class, we all throw under hand because we don’t have the muscle strength to hold a ball above, like above our shoulders and throw it. We just physically can’t do it.

The only difference really that you’ll see in the BC four class is whether someone throws like open-handed or palm down, and that’s just a question of preference. What feels right

[00:20:48] Jill: because you are a palm down person.

[00:20:51] Alison Levine: I’m a palm down person. Occasionally I. Palm up. If I need to generate really like a really hard shot far at the end of the court, I will go that way cuz I can get more power that way.

But it’s less precise. But fun fact, when I started my bacho career, I was only a palm up player because that’s the standard more for BC four and that’s all that I saw. So that’s how I thought I had to play. And it was only when I was looking. BC two players, the majority that throw palm down, that I realize, you know what?

I have similar characteristics. I think I wanna try that. And I completely changed my style of throwing in 2014 from only palm up to palm down.

[00:21:39] Jill: How did that affect your overall game?

[00:21:42] Alison Levine: It immediately got better, which is insane because it’s like, it was almost like starting from. but it just, it clicked and it was just so much more natural and more comfortable for me and that’s, it took almost no time to adjust.

[00:21:58] Alison Brown: So when the point of the game is you wanna get as many of the throne balls close to the jack as

[00:22:05] Alison Levine: possible. Yes. Closer than your opponent’s closest.

[00:22:08] Alison Brown: So is it more play to knock people out or play for position

[00:22:15] Alison Levine: or both? Both. Both. In, in general, balls are, because they’re not curling stones, it’s harder to knock them out of the way.

You need power and every time you add power, you lose precision as well. So your first objective is, is always get to the jack and try to get in front of it and in the line of your opponent. If they succeed in doing that, then you obviously have to displace, you have to knock it off so that you can then get closer.

So it’s in a very close, tight, evenly matched B match. You will often see it alternating open and then place, and then the next player opens, and then places, opens, places. It just kind of like until someone maybe makes a little bit of a mistake or. is now running outta balls and they have to think of a different tactic.

So it’s very, very kind of complex because if you find yourself in a situation at the end of the end where you have four, five, even balls left, and your opponent has thrown all your ball, all of their balls, you know then that you’re gonna go to just open up the game and pile in as many points as possible.

[00:23:25] Jill: What is strategy about where to throw the jack?

[00:23:29] Alison Levine: So there’s two schools of thought on where to throw the jack. Some people like to think, oh, my opponent struggles playing at seven meters or more, so I’m gonna throw my jack there, even though. , I’m not so great at seven meters or more. And then there’s the other school of thought of I’m really good at three meters, three and a half meters.

My opponent’s really good there too, but I’m confident there. I’m good there. I know I can, you know, make, make the shots I need. So I’m gonna play to my strength. So it’s a question of either playing to your opponent’s weakness or playing to your. , and in my opinion, and Bacha Canada’s opinion is that you always play to your strength, not to your opponent’s weakness because you want to be able to control every end.

So you’ll see a lot of players at the beginning play deep often because they’re, they’re intimidated by their opponent’s capacity to open up the game close or make key shots close, and they’re kind of hoping that they’re not able. play deeper on the court, but you do often get yourself into trouble if you’re playing deep, because if your opponent has one good shot out of the six balls they throw playing at nine meters, sometimes that’s the only ball that makes the difference.

So[00:25:00] it’s a personal choice. Some people are extremely good deep, so go ahead. And then they know that the other opponent is gonna struggle as well. But it’s really. Personal preference and, and tends to change over time as well.

[00:25:18] Alison Brown: Do you have a favorite shot that just when you get a chance to throw it, you’re like, oh, this is the best.

[00:25:24] Alison Levine: So I’m known for my displacement capacity. and I have my uh, my ball that I love doing displacement with. And when there’s a situation to do it on court, especially when we’re in pairs and my teammate just looks at me and we know it’s the shot. We don’t have to say a word to each other, and I just pretend to wipe drool from my chin and he just says, go for it.

I get to do it. And it’s just, oh, it feels so good. Yeah. ,

[00:25:52] Alison Brown: how much talking do you do when it’s team and

[00:25:55] Alison Levine: pair. A sign of a good team and pairs is constant communication. When the athletes are not talking, it’s because they’re in trouble and they’re panicking and they’re not making the right decisions cohesively.

Because you are in different boxes, you have different views of the game, you have different angles, you have different balls. You have different strength and weaknesses than your teammates. You have to be constantly talking to each other. Of course, only when it’s your turn, because if it’s not your turn, that’s gonna be a penalty.

[00:26:27] Alison Brown: Oh, so you have to be quiet when it’s the other person’s turn. Okay?

[00:26:30] Alison Levine: You can only talk or prepare your shot or really move around much either if it’s nobody’s turn to throw or your turn to throw. The minute you see your opponent’s color, you have to back up and zip it.

[00:26:45] Jill: What about clock management?

how do you manage the clock and is it different for the type of game you’re having or even singles versus pairs versus team?

[00:26:56] Alison Levine: I don’t think much about the clock because I’ve never been someone that’s had a trouble getting all my balls thrown within the time. I feel like it’s a very, very reasonable amount of time for the amount of balls.

Different classes have different amount of times cuz like the ramp players take much longer so they have much more time, for example, than than a BC four would have. And in the also in pairs we have an extra minute as well. It’s just being mindful of it, you know, you don’t want to. Three minutes to throw two balls and then only have one minute left to throw four balls where you have to panic.

You can’t go through your routine and it can be stressful when you hear the clock ding and the referee yells out one minute, 30 seconds. And when they yell 10 seconds, it would be really hard to get a shot off because. , you’re not able in that time to do your proper routine that you do before every shot.

But I have rarely, I wanna say maybe once, only been left with like 10 seconds. I always have. Around 30 seconds left at the end of an end. But uh, funny story, we were in training once actually, and we were doing what we call an official game. So we put the clock on. We have our coach who’s being an official referee.

We have to do everything as if we were in competition. And my teammate and I are panicking because we don’t understand what is going. And then we realized they accidentally set the clock to individual play. So we had an entire less minute. So all our strategies were like, we’re freaking out. Like what is going on?

What is wrong with us today? And then the guy doing the time was like, my bad . We’re like, yes, you are bad.

[00:28:41] Alison Brown: What is your routine before a shot?

[00:28:44] Alison Levine: I’d say my routine is firstly, get into my box, go see the game on the court if I need to, if I judge it’s necessary or not, I place myself in my box. I line up, then I grab my ball, I put the ball on my knee, I take a breath, I lean over onto my armrest, and then I start my wind.

[00:29:04] Alison Brown: I’m curious as to what are you doing to get ready for Paris? What does training look like

[00:29:10] Alison Levine: Right now? Training is starting to ramp up. We have our first World Cup coming up the last weekend of. , which is luckily in Montreal, it has returned after three, four years.

We finally get it back after Covid. So we’re happy about our, our home field advantage. So right now in the winter, we tend to take it a little bit easier because there’s not as many competitions, so we allow our bodies to rest our minds to rest as well, which is equally as important, if not more.

And now we’re back to our regular training schedule. , we train out of the Olympic stadium at the Institute of Al Depa, the national Sports Institute of Quebec. Great facilities there and pretty much [00:30:00] leading up to Paris is. Attending as many competitions as we’re allowed to and able to competitions is really where you get your points for qualification.

There’s of course, the direct qualifier competition that will be part of the Para Pan American Games this year. So if you win gold uh, at that event, you automatically get a slot for. So that would be an ultimate goal to, achieve that there. But pretty much because of my high world ranking, sitting at world number three in individuals and in pairs, we just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing.

There’s nothing that we have to do magical. As long as we keep up our results like we’ve been doing in the last few years, we shouldn’t have an issue qualifying for Paris at all. It’s really just continuing enjoying what we’re doing and it’ll lead us there.

[00:30:53] Jill: how do you get the red balls and the blue balls feeling the same? Or do you just go, this is what the blue balls are gonna do and I gotta adapt to the blue balls and this is the red balls.

[00:31:04] Alison Levine: That is actually your excellent question that no one has ever asked me before that isn’t a Bacha athlete because believe it or not, , the dye that they use for blue balls, and I’m talking across all companies for some reason, and they, they’re not all the same color blue, so they’re using different types of dye and whatnot, and it’s different types of materials, but the blue balls always seem to stay harder than the reds.

For some reason. We, we are, I’m just saying the die, but that’s, that’s the working theory of us Canadians, is that it’s the die that’s causing this. In general, most people prefer their reds. Some people not for other reasons, but most people for the feel of the ball and the balls themselves prefer their reds and will if they win the coin toss often choose the reds so that they get to play red, but you have to work them the same amount because.

Start throwing more blues than reds, it doesn’t make sense. So you just kind of have to know to throw them that tiny little bit lighter. It’s really, it’s really weird, but like you kind of, your body gets used to it and, and instinctively knows after a while that this ball acts a little bit different than the other ball.


[00:32:27] Jill: So yeah, cause it’s interesting because then when you go to a game, you’re not just playing the opponent. Once you find out what balls you’re playing, then you had to build a kind of a different strategy. It’s not just strategy game strategy against opponent, it’s game strategy with the balls you have to



[00:32:43] Alison Levine: Yeah. I mean, the difference isn’t that extreme. Okay. That it would make a difference really in your strategy, but it can make a. in your confidence level as well. If you’re someone who really believes that, oh, I like my blue balls better, or I like my red balls better, and you lose that coin toss and you don’t get to choose and are given the other collar balls that can affect you more than the balls themselves.

Actually, I think cuz you know, bacho is mostly, as I say, a lot Bachas, 98% of the time played between both your ears.

[00:33:17] Alison Brown: Tokyo was mixed. Men and women. You’re now doing just women. How has that changed the game for you?

[00:33:23] Alison Levine: Oof. It has thrown it on its head for sure. I was mostly against the change before it happened, honestly, because I thought that it spread that bad message of that women can’t compete with men, which at the time that the change was made, I was number one in the.

Men and women. So don’t tell me that women can’t compete against men because, you know, I’m proof. But it used to be that the woman in pairs or teams would have to play one end out of four or one end out of six. Because of this, they were just there as a token. So they would put the woman in for the first.

Quote, unquote kind of sacrifice doing not as good that end and then pull them out of the game. It was kind of looking back now, disgraceful. There was only a few countries like Canada and another two, maybe three that had strong females, and that was their second player that would be on the court the whole game, but now they’re there no matter what.

It’s one man and one female. So the countries are like, we have to invest in these women. We have to give them the same opportunities that we’ve been giving the male athletes all along. We’re gonna give them better training, we’re gonna get them better equipment. We’re gonna start treating them as athletes and not just that token person there that has to throw three balls.

So the level of play has immensely shot. , I thought at first honestly this is gonna be an easy ride for me. I’m gonna win every tournament and you know, [00:35:00] be able to just cruise to the next Paralympics. My first competition in the all female division, it was a little bit like that. Three months later, incredible play from these athletes so you know that they are now ha are getting the resources that they should have been getting to begin with. , they’re metal potentials now. Before when it was men and women and they’re not putting any money or any resources or training into the women, there’s no chance that they were gonna win an individual medal.

Now there’s a chance that they can, because it’s all females. So they’re really working hard and the play hit level as I, I mean, I can’t say that enough. It’s, it’s insane how much butter everyone has gotten leaps and. ,

[00:35:43] Jill: does that make the the sport more fun for you then?

[00:35:46] Alison Levine: yeah.

It makes it more fun. I’m, I’m not, you know how some athletes, they thrive when they’re under pressure, like they do best in, in, when they’re really challenged. I’m not that type of athlete, so, , I, you know, I do better when I am like winning by 10, nothing when I have less pressure. So this change has kind of been like, when, when the women started getting much, much better, I was like, Ooh, okay.

Darn. But , you know, I, I, I now have learned to love it because it’s, I mean, before I was playing against the men as well, so I had that, that challenge. But now that it’s up there again, it’s really. , the respect level has gone up too. You know, like I’ve seen myself and the other athletes really grow in just, the year, pretty much.

It was one, one BK year that we’ve had where the divisions have been separate, and the best thing that I love is in pairs. Now. There’s no more substitute. It’s two athletes only. They stay on the court and it really is truly now a mixed sport. You know, one man, one woman on the court at all times, and to.

that’s equality and equity and that’s kind of beautiful to watch cuz it’s still not in many sports where, you know, men and women compete together.

[00:37:00] Alison Brown: Besides Canada, who are the other powerhouse countries we should be paying attention to

[00:37:04] Alison Levine: in the BC four category? Slovakia is and always has been really high up there.

Interesting enough, based on kind of your last question about you know, the female division. The countries that really did well this year are ones that already had a strong female athlete. It’s played to our advantage because. , the ones that either didn’t have a female at all or had ones that they really didn’t invest in much are struggling because now they’re on the court at all times.

But individually and in Paris’s, Slovakia has always been a powerhouse. We’ve seen a shift in the America Zone where Canada has moved. to be really one of the top. And Columbia as well has a good amount of players as well. So they have the capacity to send different athletes to different competitions as well.

They kind of have, oh, you know, for this competition we’re gonna send this person uh, which Canada doesn’t have, which can be advantageous but can also not be. But um, they’re pretty high up there now and in general. , the Asian countries have also been very, very strong, but we don’t get an opportunity to see ’em that often cuz they tend to stay in their zone more.

[00:38:25] Jill: What is your

[00:38:26] Alison Levine: training day like? My training day is, Quite a, a stable routine. I’d say my mom, who is my sports assistant, cuz in Bacha we each have a, a sports assistant with us at all times. In Canada, we call them performance partners by the way. So my mom comes from her house to my apartment and drives me in my van to the Olympic stadium.

We’re about 45 minutes away. Start. A quick 10 to 15 minute warmup just to get the body moving and the balls rolling. A training session, it’s the coach that always has the training plan for the day. It normally will consist of either a pairs game or an individual game based on who, which athletes are there that day.

But most of the time it’s different drills. So we have different drills that have been created and set up and modified throughout the years that practice. Shots that you would have to do in a batch of match. And I’ll normally be on court for about two and a half to three hours with some small breaks in between, and then come back home and nap.

I’m a big fan of napping. My body needs it, my brain needs it. But because Bacha is such a tactical sport and. A sport that really relies on you having control over your emotions and your breathing and, and your anxiety pretty much, and the stress of the game. There’s a lot that can [00:40:00] be done when you’re not on court, when you’re off court.

So that includes meeting with our mental performance expert. Doing breathing exercises, meditation, doing video reviews, doing at home stretching. We also, for the physical, we have physiotherapists as well, massage therapists really making sure to take care of yourself as a whole human being in order to perform well.

At Bacha, there’s a, the old school of thought of throw as many balls as you can and, and, and for as long as you can, but it’s. Proven scientifically, we have a lot of a really good integrative support science team at our treading center that has, you know, monitored when we’re at risk of injury or when do we peak during the year.

They’ve really come to realize that it’s not about the number of balls and just being on court for hours on end, throwing balls. , improving your game, in fact is actually making it worse. And you need to have a much more rounded training regimen.

[00:41:04] Jill: Because I was gonna say, watching some of the competition, your shoulder gets a lot of action there.

[00:41:11] Alison Levine: It does . Yeah. Yeah. And you gotta remember as well, is that we’re athletes with disabilities too. So most of us have pain all the time from. You know, being in our bodies and then adding those repetitive motions are not great. But that’s why we do have our specialists, like our physio always travels with us to competitions because we need her to help us, Stay in good shape. We pay attention to our body mechanics, probably more in everyday life than other people because we want to preserve our bodies for our sport. We don’t care about our bodies for regular day to day. We only care about it for sport, right? But also things like our wheelchairs, making sure that there are positioning in them is still good for us and all those little things to make sure that we, we stay healthy and.

Relatively pain free.

[00:42:07] Alison Brown: Is it your regular wheelchair that you’re using?

[00:42:10] Alison Levine: You can use your regular wheelchair for boccia, but at the elite level it’s, that’s very rare. So I have a very specific boccia wheelchair. Then I have a manual wheelchair, which I use in my apartment.

And for outside of my apartment, I’m in a motorized wh. So my boccia wheelchair is built custom for me. It would be quite uncomfortable for me to sit in all the time because it’s really set up for an active throwing position. And I actually just got an amazing product hashtag sponsored that is a motorized device that clips onto the back of my boccia manual wheelchair that converts it into a power chair.

So I still have. Advantages of being in a manual wheelchair, cuz there’s much, there’s big advantages to being in a manual versus a power chair for bacha. Simple, simple, just look at the size of it in your throwing box. But I now have the motorized device, which saves me tons of energy, not having to propel myself, not having to lean forward to put my brakes on, all those things that are going to, keep me.

energized at competitions, and even at training. So yeah.

[00:43:21] Alison Brown: Why am I imagining an outward motor being strapped onto a wheelchair

[00:43:30] Alison Levine: It’s actually an awesome device. It sits on the back of the chair and has two rollers that kind of bite into the wheels, so they technically just turn the wheels for you. It’s like a literal motorization. . That is one of a kind. There’s no other company that does one like that in the world, so Wow.

[00:43:52] Jill: Incredible. Yeah. Anything else that we haven’t talked about that we need to know to watch Bacha better?

[00:43:59] Alison Levine: One thing I like to explain to people is that it may appear boring at first because you don’t quite know the game yet. You don’t have to be an expert by any means. . First of all, spectators, you don’t have to be quiet.

You can talk. It’s not like those tennis matches where like, God forbid you sneeze in the stands. You know, you can cheer after shots. Some countries you’ll hear are really loud cheering. It’s not uh, well, it’s a bit of distraction, but we learn to block out the distractions. Once you start understanding the game a little bit and the strategy that’s involved an understanding.

The skills that it actually takes to be that precise, consistently, you’re gonna be amazed by the game and it becomes so super exciting. You know, having to analyze, decide, and execute in a matter of seconds is, it’s just mind blowing. Especially people doing it in the bodies [00:45:00] that, that they have, you know, it’s absolutely a beautiful sport to.

[00:45:05] Jill: Excellent. Well, Alison, thank you so much. We really appreciate you having you on and demystifying some of the sport for

[00:45:12] Alison Levine: us, . My pleasure. Good ball talk.

[00:45:18] Jill: Thank you so much Alison. You can follow Alison on Twitter. She is at Bacha Alison and that is Alison with one L and spelled correctly . Alison is her website. We would like to give a shout out to our patrons who keep our flame alive. If March is making you excited about brackets, go to Flame Alive pod to get access to our Mascot Madness.

Bonus patron content.

Seoul 1988 History Moment

[00:45:45] Jill: Wow, that sound means it is time for our history moment and all year long we are looking at Seoul 1988, as it is the 35th anniversary of those games. It is my turn for a story and a couple weeks ago I teased the fact that there were some controversy in the goalball. I feel like I

[00:46:08] Alison: should start singing.

Imagine Dragons . Like we heard every goalball match from Tokyo . I feel like that would set the stage for controversy and goalball .

[00:46:19] Jill: So let’s talk a little bit about that tournament. Goalball was first on the Paralympic program in 1976, but it was men’s only until 1984 when the women’s tournament was added, team u s A was defending gold medalist for both tournaments.

So they were looking to repeat. The Men’s tournament consisted of 15 teams, including the host nation, South Korea, and for the first time Iran,

[00:46:43] Alison: This is gonna get interesting, isn’t it?

Are US and Iran gonna play each other? Oh goodness.

[00:46:47] Jill: Iran didn’t stick around that long. Oh, no. , they were in the same group as Israel. and when it came, time to play them. According to the National Paralympic Heritage Trust, the Iranian team chanted . Quote, an aggressive war, cry at the Israeli team and refuse to play them. So , I should not laugh because it is a very serious situation, but you just go, oh, you run.

Not much has changed. No, no. And we know that the Paralympics, they don’t mess around. So, Iran was disqualified for committing a gross misuse of the sporting platform for political aims, and they were sent home, but the Iranian team manager as, formally apologized the following day and say, well, we’ll play any team.

It’s okay. You know, we didn’t mean it , but no, the I P C not messing around. You’re out. You’re gone. Not new behavior for them or even old behavior. We’ve seen the recent behavior with, I think judo has been an issue with Iranians refusing to compete against Israeli athletes. But also in 1982, they were kicked out of the International Stoke Mandeville games for distributing political propaganda.


[00:47:57] Alison: is old is new again,

[00:47:59] Jill: right? So the men’s tournament carried on and at the top it seemed like a really evenly matched field in the semi-finals. Only one match ended after regulation and that’s when Yugoslavia beat Hungary in the semis to go to the gold medal match. The other semi-final US beat Egypt and a penalty shootout to nothing.

Hungary then went on to lose to Egypt in the bronze medal match that game. Went to a penalty shootout with Egypt, scoring two to one. Then in the gold medal match, USA is looking to repeat. Yugoslavia, beats them in overtime. Two to nothing denying them the real repeat. From what I can tell by archives, Iran did not make it back to the goalball tournament until Beijing 2008.

On the women’s side, as I mentioned, this was the second time that women’s goalball was contested. U S A defending gold with medalists. But at Seoul there were six other teams trying to prevent them from doing so.

U s A had a perfect six and oh record heading into the playoff matches only team. To do so, they beat Netherlands and four to zero in the semis to get to the gold medal match, and then they faced Denmark for the gold game tied zero zero at the end of regulation. And Denmark won in a penalty shootout.

3, 2, 1. What

[00:49:25] Alison: a fun tournament. I mean, except for the aggressive

[00:49:27] Jill: warry. Right, right. But the play itself, oh my goodness. Wow. Just on the edge of your seat play. So, and to round out the podium Canada, beat Netherlands for the bronze. So goal ball starting off, you know, your second games, you’re, you’re becoming a powerhouse of a sport there.


[00:49:44] Alison: Welcome to shk.

[00:49:53] Jill: It is the time of the show where we check in with our team, keep the flame alive. These are past guests of the show and listeners of the show [00:50:00] who make up our citizenship of our very own country Shk. Over the weekend, the D tones of Jason Bryant announced his 51st College National Championship, and that was also his 21st Division one and NCAA champ.


[00:50:16] Alison: get well soon Wishes to Speedy j Erin Jackson, who had a six hour surgery to remove some uterine fibroids. Surgery went well. Fibroids were non-cancerous. Erin will be in recovery for about eight weeks and then plans to be back at it, so get well. Erin

[00:50:33] Jill: Jackie Wong is in Japan to cover the 2023 World Figure Skating Championships.

[00:50:39] Alison: Already posting pictures of his snack.

[00:50:41] Jill: Yes. Oh my gosh. My whole Twitter feed is Jackie Wong notes. He is just incredible at getting you the information you need to enjoy The Chimps

[00:50:51] Alison: nominations for British Weightlifting’s Annual Achievement Awards are out, and our shk Fasani Louise Sugden has been nominated for the Inspiring Others Award. and we will include a link to that in the show notes

[00:51:07] Jill: and author Andrew Marin’s book Games of Deception, which is one of our book Club Reads, has been included on book Authority dot org’s 20 best Olympic Games, eBooks of all time. And don’t forget, we are talking with Andrew about his latest book, Inaugural Ballers on Monday, March 27th at 9:00 PM Eastern email, flame alive pod for the zoom link.

Paris 2024 News

[00:51:28] Jill: Oh, are you ready to go to Paris?

[00:51:37] Alison: I am. I’m actually getting excited about it now. I have no tickets. I have no hotel. I don’t care.

[00:51:45] Jill: we have some news from Paris 2024. Our friend Karolos Groman, reported in Reuters that Paris 2024 organizers are planning to produce fewer torches for the torch. Citing sustainability concerns. Now, usually it’s everybody who runs in the relay gets the opportunity to get their torch at the end of their segment.

And there have been known to be thousands of these torches out there. Tokyo used 10,000 runners. Trio had over 12,000, and London had over 8,000. the Paris organizers have not announced how many runners there would be. They haven’t announced how many torches there will be.

[00:52:25] Alison: Well, remember when we were watching the movie from Albertville, they actually passed the torch.

Each runner didn’t have a separate torch. So it’s not like France hasn’t done this before.

[00:52:36] Jill: Right. it’s an incredible honor to be able to carry the torch. , but it’s also, I think the honor gets diminished when you’re only running with a torch for like a hundred meters if that, because there’s so many people that need to be crammed into getting this honor.

So that makes sense. I’m very curious about the quote unquote sustainability concerns with that, just more of the, how about it costs a lot of money to produce these torches and maybe you don’t get it all back. When, even if the, the runners do buy them. But

[00:53:07] Alison: financial health is part of sustainability for the Olympics because if, Olympics become no longer financially viable, then you’ve got a big problem.

So sustainability can have many meetings.

[00:53:21] Jill: Okay. it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with and. Honestly, I, I think it’ll be interesting to have a torch relay where they actually hand off the torch like they’ve done in the past. Don’t drop it. Another house announcement. Hospitality houses, team Belgium is going to have the Lotto Belgium house.

It is going to be located at the Salon Huk which during the Roaring twenties, this was the place to be for a fun dance party. So getting very excited about this.

[00:53:51] Alison: Isn’t Lato a candy manufacturer?

[00:53:54] Jill: no, this is the Belgian National Lottery. Lotto is a candy manufacturer, but I believe it’s a South Korean one. I was getting excited

[00:54:01] Alison: for lotto candy.

[00:54:03] Jill: you could get excited for Belgian food. French fries. There you go. Sports bar meet and greets with the team.

Belgium athletes watch the Olympics on the big screen. Fan zone medal ceremony in the Belgium house. live concerts with Belgian artists, a team Belgium shop. They will have some hospitality and private events. They will have Belgian Michelin starred chefs there, ha ha ho, and a press center for the Belgian media.

So it looks pretty cool. I will say that there are tickets for this. The ticket sales will start in the fall of 2023, so you can choose from access to the day program or to the evening program. But this looks like a really cool time. I will say that.

We’ll have a link to the Belgium house and the show notes. You can sign up to find out what the different hospitality programs are for [00:55:00] every day. They don’t have it listed yet, but you can be the first to know.

Other big news from Paris 2024 is that the volunteer portal is op opening for application submissions on March 22nd, which will actually be just before this episode is released you will have. A month or month to six weeks to apply because the application portal will close at the beginning of May.

They are looking for about 45,000 volunteers. You can find out more at the volunteer portal that we’ll have a link to in the show notes in this. Portal, there’s gonna be an application form with four parts into it. So they will ask for you for personal details and contact information. they will ask you where you intend to stay during the games because they want people to be close to their residences.

Another element of that sustainability platform, they don’t want people to travel too far. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know where you’re. just, if people who are in Paris or local to Paris, they know where they’re gonna be during the games. They wanna be able to be placed closer. They will ask you your skills and experiences, including your language capabilities and the sports you know, and to what extent you know them.

You do not have to have sporting experience. To become a volunteer. They will ask then information related to the mobilization of the games. So this means do you apply for the Paris 2024 program, which is the games, or do you want to apply for the City of Paris program, which is they will have volunteers around the city to welcome visitors, guide them, and give information out.

You can apply to. You can say whether you want Olympics, Paralympics, or both. . And then you’ll also have space there to ask questions of the organizers or to tell more about yourself and why you’re motivated to be a volunteer. the last section of the application is an orientation questionnaire, which is a series of questions about real life situations that allow organizers to get to know you better with a goal of finding the role that fits you.

[00:57:06] Alison: And we have given you many ideas of volunteer jobs, , you know, both in our Tokyo and Beijing coverage. What uh, official or volunteer job would you like to do? And here was one that you wrote on our notes, the anti-doping chaperone. Right?

[00:57:24] Jill: I forgot about that one. I

[00:57:27] Alison: thought that was all officials, but I guess somebody’s gotta refill the beer.

[00:57:31] Jill: Right. It’s, it’s the person that brings, that waits for the athlete when they’re done and brings them to anti-doping. And sometimes they’re waiting for a while for them to get done kind of thing. And, and they’ve gotta take ’em along. So they rely on volunteers for that part of the journey.

[00:57:46] Alison: But, well, I hope, I hope some of our people get the job and I’d love, I can’t wait to hear about the inside of volunteering at some of these events. Cuz you know, we obviously talked to our volunteers when we were in Beijing and we got a sense of how they were trained and what they were doing during the games.

But this is gonna be a whole. Situation, it’s gonna be in open games, it’s gonna be people around, there’s gonna be so many people in the city, and it’s Paris versus China. So that’s gonna be a whole different situation. So this could be just too much fun to be volunteering.

[00:58:23] Jill: Oh, yeah. If you apply, let us know. Let us know how long it takes you to apply. They, the organizers say it should take about 40 minutes to do this whole application. So it’s, it’s not a joke. I mean, they expect to get, even though they’re looking for 45,000 people, I bet they get a good hundred thousand if not more applications for this.

Because people love to volunteer. Want to be a part of the games, and it’s a really cool way to do so. Remember, you have to be at least 18 years old by January 1st, 2024, and you have to be available for at least 10 days during the games, and you must speak French or English.

Would you apply if we weren’t doing this podcast? Absolutely ,

[00:59:06] Alison: no questions asked. So, yeah, I may still apply. You may need to get a, a substitute host, . I’ll be busy picking up sparkles at Rhythm Michigan. NASDAQs

[00:59:18] Jill: Oh man. Can only help. Right . that is going to do it for this week. Let us know what you learned about Bacha.

[00:59:25] Alison: And you can get in touch with us. We are at Flame Alive Pod on Insta, Twitter and Facebook, so you can DM us there. You can also email us at flame alive pod Call or text us at (208) 352-6348. That’s 2 0 8. Flame it. And you can have fun with us every day when you join our Facebook group. It’s Keep the Flame Alive Podcast group and once a week we send out a newsletter and you can sign up for

[00:59:57] Jill: Yeah, you might want to [01:00:00] check out that Facebook group because boy, we were talking about Tahiti the other week. I found some stuff out about Tahiti and the surfing competition that just kind of blew my mind. So check out that in the Facebook group next week. Get excited. We’re getting into the commentator’s booth with one of our favorite O B s commentators, Olly Hogben.

Thank you so much for listening, and until next time, keep the flame alive.