He is Britain’s most successful boccia player, and will be taking part in his fifth Paralympics, but Nigel Murray is as excited about Rio 2016 as he was about taking part in his first games in Sydney 16 years ago.
Murray (pictured) already has four Paralympic medals, including two golds – he is the fifth most successful Paralympic boccia athlete – and will be going to Rio with strong medal chances in the individual BC2 and BC1/BC2 team competitions.
He told Disability News Service that he and his fellow team members have worked just as hard in training as they did in the lead-up to London 2012.
As an athlete with cerebral palsy, he said the sport is physically draining because of the need to use so much energy during matches.
So from July onwards, the ParalympicsGB boccia team have been balancing the intensity of their training with the need to get as much rest as possible in the lead-up to competition.
He said: “All the hard work has been done over the last seven or eight months and now it’s just getting ready and having a bit of tapering off, but because the game we play is a hand-eye coordination game you don’t want to stop altogether, you want to keep yourself just ticking over.”
Training over the last months has been a combination of conditioning sessions at home, including physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, with coming together as a team two or three times a month for three, four or five days at a time.
Murray has experience of competing in Rio, as he took part in the Rio 2016 test event last October, so he’s done some “groundwork” and has shared that experience with other members of the squad.
Recovery time from the lengthy flight from London to Rio will be crucial, he said, and the “exhaustion” of long-haul flights is something he and his boccia team-mates will have to cope with.
He said: “It’s preparing yourself for that and the journey and ensuring when you get there that you get the adequate amount of recovery time to give you the optimum time to feel at your best to compete.”
The boccia squad fly out to Brazil on 2 September, with the opening ceremony on 7 September, and will have well over a week before they start competing.
Murray said: “It gives us plenty of time to acclimatise to the change in time clocks, get over the travels and the jet lag and get some good quality training time in readiness to start competing.”
Long-distance international travel is something the British team are used to now, said Murray, who has watched the popularity of boccia grow over the nearly 20 years he has been playing, with more than 40 countries now playing the sport.
He said that putting the new ParalympicsGB kit on for the first time was “fantastic”.
He said: “It’s just as exciting as it was the first time. I’m as proud as I was back in 2000 when I went out to Sydney.”
And he is excited, too, about the boccia squad’s medal chances.
The BC1/BC2 team he is a member of is ranked second in the world, while he is ranked in the top 10 in BC2 singles.
David Smith is the world number two in the BC1s, while Stephen McGuire is world champion in the BC4s.
The squad also features the McCowan brothers, Jamie and Scott.
Murray is optimistic about the development of boccia, although he is “frustrated” – as DNS reported last month – that yet again there will not be live television coverage of the sport at Rio.
Despite the lack of live coverage, he said that London 2012 helped boost the sport’s profile across the world, and not just in Britain.
He said: “It has raised the standard across the world; there are better competitions, more competitions, everything is bigger and better, standards are raised.
“When I came into the sport in 1999, I would never have dreamed that if I was still playing [in 2016] that the sport would be a professional sport.
“I’m very proud of my sport. It’s not a sport that has the high profile of many of the sports but I’m very proud of saying I’m a boccia player and will do anything actively to promote my sport and the benefits and merits of my sport and as athletes what we achieve.
“It’s a great sport that anybody can play and that’s why I find it a little frustrating because unless we get that key to the door that lets us in and we can really showcase our sport, it does make it difficult for us to compete in the profile stakes.”
Picture of Nigel Murray by onEdition