Thursday, October 28, 2010

FPUSA Team shines in World Championships!

Those who have been following the World Championships that concluded a couple of weeks ago (October 7-11) know of the results: France won both the triples competition and the shooting contest. The team from Madagascar was second and Spain and Mauritania were collectively in 3rd place. A new world record in the shooting was set by Claudy Weibel of Belgium (66 points out of 100 possible).

And, the Turkish federation with only a couple of months notice, pulled off a very well organized event. You'll remember the championship had originally been awarded to Taiwan but earlier this year, it was determined they would be unable to fulfill their commitment to host it and Turkey, thankfully, took it on.

Opening ceremony

Our team of four was captained by Jean-Pierre Subrenat, and the three others were Xavier Thibaud, Eric Bertin (all NYPC), and PJ Malette, well known Bay Area player. Steve Ginsberg, also NYPC, had signed on as coach.

Our team was one of the 48 best teams from around the world who gathered in Izmir for a few days of games to sort out the best-of-the-best.

With coaches and delegates and spectators, there were about 500 of us, not counting the large staff of Turkish volunteers and those from the FIPJP.

The teams sought out practice grounds in the dual purpose park containing trade fair pavilions and an amusement park with a roller coaster and bumper cars, etc. There were dirt areas and a practice court had been constructed outside.

Jet lag aside, our guys were feeling good, looked sharp in their uniforms, and one could just sense they were going to play well together.

The large hall had been configured with 24 courts and the concrete floor had been covered with about an inch of coarse and fine gravel. Indeed, there were some spots where a previously tossed boule had blown the gravel away, leaving bare concrete and a boule would descend from its plombée to land directly on bare concrete and then go soaring off the court.

Here's what they played on, gravel over a concrete floor!

Each team played a total of 5 qualifying games (3 on Friday, 2 on Saturday) using the Swiss System which arranges matches according to how well teams are playing, better teams end up being matched with better teams, worse teams with others that are not playing so well.

At the end of these 5 matches, our U.S. team was ranked a very strong 18th out of the 48 teams in the competition! Rarely in our 30 years of sending teams to the worlds has our U.S. team ranked so high in the qualifying matches. The chemistry and camaraderie was there; it was enough to make one very proud of these players.

In these 5 games, we won against Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Russia, and lost against Thailand and Portugal. Steve's spot on coaching provided valuable strategic insight and all our players logged time in the matches.

All the qualifying games were timed as is necessary in the Swiss system (1¼ hours plus 2 ends), and in the game against Russia, we were down 5-8 after the 1¼ hour time limit, but in the next two ends we pulled ahead 9-8, and got our 3 wins that was needed to qualify for the concours. A nail biter for us!

Based on the Swiss ranking, our team was in the top 24 and had made the Concours! These top 24 teams were put into the Concours pools ( 8 pools of 3 teams each) and played each other. Lose twice and you are out of the concours though teams losing twice are given another chance by being put into the consolante (called the Coupe de Nations), which is where our teams usually are placed right away since most of the times we go, we are in the lower half of the team rankings.

As it happened, our Concours pool included Morocco and Portugal, and we ended up losing twice and were sent into the Coupe de Nations, where unfortunately for us, we lost to Djibouti, a strong team that got to the Coupe de Nations semi-finals. So then we were spectators which meant we were able to enjoy watching the best teams progress.

On Sunday, the matches concluded with some of the best petanque playing many have ever seen. These players in the worlds are able to make a very high percentage of their boules count in the game, with only the occasional stray point or missed shot. And, many of their shots result in a carreau, so they will shoot a far away boule holding the point knowing there is a good chance their boule will sit in the same spot (sur place) or at least hang around for the point.

Our team and entourage, Top row L to R, Eric Bertin (shooter), Eric's brother who came along, Steve Ginsberg (coach), me (Chef de Delegation), Robert Pierre, FPUSA International Events Coordinator. Crouching, L to R, Xavier Thibaud (middle), Jean-Pierre Subrenat (pointer), PJ Malette, 4th player.

In the final for the world championship, it was France against Madagascar. They went back and forth on the score, but it ended up 12-12. In the last end, the jack was pushed out to 12 meters. France held a not too close point, Madagascar shot their last boule, knocking out the French boule. Their boule rolled very close to the jack giving them two points because they had another not so close boule. Philippe Suchaud made a clean shot on the Madagascar boule at 12 meters, leaving Madagascar with the winning point, but France had one more boule and Henri Lacroix pointed it in to win the game! The crowd erupted in cheering and the French team ran to each other hugging and kissing. It was a spectacular game!

After the awards ceremony with the winner's nation's flags being raised and medals looped over heads and bouquets of flowers presented, the 45th World Championship concluded.

That evening there was a gala dinner at a restaurant on the waterfront featuring an entire roasted lamb and pasta and much hugging between the players of the various teams, and trading of team shirts with one another, sometimes peeled off one player to be put on by another.

The New Zealand team doing a very fine "Haka" dance at the Gala Dinner as part of that country's bid to host the 2012 World Championships.

Monday morning several hundred players and delegates made their way by taxi to the Izmir airport for the flights home.

Quite an experience to be around so many excellent players but all enjoying the same camaraderie that you and I experience when we meet for casual play on our courts.

The next Worlds is in 2012, maybe you will want to start sharpening your game now.