The following story is from Zac Diep-Nicholson who attended this year's Junior World Championships in China. The team had the best success ever for a team from Australia finishing second in the Nations Cup.
Australian Juniors World Championship, Kaihua, China November 2017
It all started one dinner when my Dad told me that I had been chosen for the Australian Petanque junior team along with Bronson Romani (16), Logan Romani (11) and Krishika Ramjuttun (10). Now, as you may know, I have recently been on a trip to Kaihua, China to compete in the 16th World Junior Petanque championships.
Day 1: We rocked up at the Pudong Shanghai Airport to meet everyone at 10:30am, 3rd November. A short wait for everyone soon turned out to be a 3-hour wait, as everyone had had problems, from people getting on the wrong flight to losing their luggage. After we finally managed to get everyone together, we hopped on the bus ready for a six-hour drive from Pudong Airport to Kaihua. We travelled with the Denmark and Netherlands teams and on the way, Bronson and I managed to convince the players from the Netherlands team that we ride Kangaroos to school and need to constantly be on the watch for drop bears!
We stayed at the Oriental Hotel, where all of the different Petanque teams were staying for the tournament. Each room held two people and was very fancy & comfortable. Gerard's (the coach) room included a round king-sized bed, surrounded by pink ceiling to floor tassels, as well as a spa. Our meals were buffet style with everything you can imagine from popcorn chicken and fried chips to fried rice and dumpling soup. This was for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day!
Day 2: A rest day and getting to know my teammates and familiarise myself with the hotel and the people working in it. We visited the piste for the first time and luckily for us it was only a 5-minute walk from the Hotel. The ground was thick gravel put onto a blue-stone paved square. This meant that you could do high lobs and stop on the spot, although a few people, including me, forgot to fill a hole leaving the pavement exposed and landed the ball on it, causing the ball to bounce at least 2 metres in the air! There were about 24 competition pistes & another 8 for practice.
Day 3: Qualifying day & the opening ceremony. Qualifying under the Swiss format meant that we were playing against teams with the same amount of wins and losses as us. Our first game was against Cambodia and for those of you who don’t know, they are a really hard team to beat. As well as that, our key player, Bronson, was sick. We don’t know if it was because of the food or not, but he felt sick and the rest of the team had to leave without him. We started the game and we were about 10-0 down when Bronson arrived and got substituted in. We managed to get a point on that end, making the score 10-1. Although we thought we had a chance, that was our team’s only point and we lost 13-1.
The next team that we played was the Czech Republic. It was a good game having the whole team together & playing well. We managed to win 13-6 making it our first win in the tournament and my first ever international win! We celebrated like crazy and the whole team was ecstatic.
Unfortunately, we were soon to be disappointed, as our next draw was against my second nationality/country, Vietnam - another top team. Unfortunately, Bronson had started to feel sick again and he was substituted off leaving Krishika (pointer), Logan (middle) and me (shooter). Although we lost, we did manage to get a single point & I happily swapped shirts with Anh Tu Nguyen after the competition.
The long day ended with the Precision Shooting competition. Each country had one representative and Bronson was ours, but unfortunately we didn't qualify against stiff competition.
Afterwards we headed off to our rooms to clean up, for the opening ceremony. The venue was a huge basketball stadium and we lined up outside behind Chinese college volunteers who held a sign with our country name & each country also had their own flag. When it was time to commence, we followed in line into the stadium, Bronson holding the Australian flag. We did a circuit around the stage, waving at the crowd and waving the flag, then lined up in the centre along with soldiers carrying the Chinese, International Petanque Federation and Kaihua flags. As we waited in the centre, various important official people made speeches that were translated into Chinese and the Petanque President even did the speech in French. After the speeches were done we walked to the seats to watch the performances. These included lion dancing, ballet, Chinese opera and hip- hop - all were amazing.
Day 4: 2nd day of qualifying. Our first game was against Denmark. We were convincingly winning 11-8, until we made a mistake by placing all our boules at the back. Denmark made 5 points to finish the game. That was the most frustrating game, having the win in view and being beaten, especially the fact that they made 5 points in one go.
After our frustration, we played the next game against Latvia. After taking longer than expected to find the piste as it was being blocked by trees, we arrived, ready to win the game. Unfortunately, none of the team was playing well and the score was 1-9 to Latvia. We all got together and were determined to win - we slowly climbed back up. Soon there was only one end to go and Australia were still 10-11 down. We needed two points in this end to win or at least one to have another end. Luckily we had the point and soon the opposition were out of boules trying to beat it. Our team had 3 boules to get another point, the first ball belonged to Krishika and unluckily it bounced badly and was out of the game. 2 balls to get 1 point. Bronson had one and I had one. All we had to do was get third and we could shoot second to get another. I pointed and luckily it was third place. 1 ball to get 1 point. Bronson needed to shoot their ball for another end. We waited nervously, I closed my eyes and we had to ask the crowd to be quiet. CRACK. I opened my eyes and looked at the ground, 2 points! I ran up to Bronson and gave him a bear hug, ecstatic. The scores were 12-11, WE HAD WON FROM 1-9 DOWN!! We shook hands and exchanged gifts and walked off happily.
Later on we found we had qualified for the Nation’s cup and were going to play one more game for that day against China’s second team (the country that hosts the tournament gets two teams, as does the winner from the previous tournament). Because we had finished the qualification games, if we lost this game we would have been out of the tournament. The game was at night, under lights. We knew we had to win it and we knew we had a chance against China as they weren’t one of the top teams. As we played we soon realised that we had the upper hand and quickly went ahead. Luckily for us we played well and won 13-3. After the games, we watched the finals for the precision shooting France against Morocco. Although I was barracking for Morocco, France won 56 to 50.
Day 5: Final day of play & straight knock out from here. Unluckily for us we were against Germany, which is a very good team. Our hopes were not high, but we were relaxed as we knew that beating China the day before had put us further in the tournament than last year. Furthermore, if we won against Germany we were guaranteed a bronze medal and if we got it, it would be the first time Australia had ever won an international Petanque medal including men’s and woman’s. We got to the piste and practised until it was time to play. The game was tight the scores only going up in intervals of 1 or 2 and the score was soon 5-4 to us. We had 5 boules and Germany had one left. We watched as their last boule sailed in the air and as it landed we saw an orange flash. The jack was out!! We had made 5 points!! Just then the umpire blew his whistle and signalled 2 more ends to play. We played defensively and ultimately won the game 10-8. We were going to get a medal! We hi-fived and realised in our amazement that we had an actual chance at winning the Nation’s Cup!
We relaxed and got ready for the next game against… believe it or not Latvia, who we had beaten yesterday. We were ready to win easily this time though. We started the game and we easily pulled ahead and quickly we had made 11 points making the scores 11-1 to us! We needed to finish the game but unfortunately Latvia started to play, really, really well. 1 point, 3 points… and soon the scores, from 11-1 up, were 12 all! At this stage our team was starting to panic, but we knew we still had a chance. Logan pointed both his balls, I shot both my balls and soon Latvia’s best player had 2 boules and Bronson had 2 boules. We waited as the Latvian pointed…. On the jack!! WHAT!! Of all things, he put his ball on top of the jack! Damn! Bronson stepped up to the circle, his only option to shoot. We waited… CRACK!! Carreau!! His ball was on the jack!! The Latvian tried a shot with his last ball and missed! We had won!! Silver medal guaranteed!! We patted each other on the shoulder, hi-fived, steady our nerves and ready for the finals.
The next game against Japan was a terrible one. They played fantastically, we played catastrophically and as you would expect they won easily, 13-6. I really don’t want to list details as it was really disappointing, but I was still happy to have a silver medal, the first ever won for Australia.
After our games, we watched the finals - France against Madagascar. We watched wanting Madagascar to win as France had already come third and won the shooting. But as we watched we were disappointed as the scores were soon 6-0 for France. We prayed for Madagascar and soon their team started to play better and better until France made a huge mistake… they shot the wrong ball! Madagascar took the opportunity and got 5 points and eventually won the game 13-9. After the finals, the flags were raised, Madagascar 1st, France 2nd and Belgium and France’s second team equal third.
At the gala dinner, the Nation’s cup winners were awarded. We were all extremely proud to be on stage representing our country and receiving our trophy. We were surprised and disappointed that no one was given a medal. However, we were happy with our trophy and pandas. Soon the party commenced and we had photos with all of the different teams that we had befriended along the way, including the Netherlands team (from the bus ride to Kaihua), Czech Republic (who we played against and won), England (who was probably the only ones who spoke English as their first language), just to name a few. Later on, our team swapped shirts, I had already swapped shirts after the finals, Bronson got a Vietnam shirt, and a German shirt and Krishika got a German shirt as well, Logan didn’t swap. The next day it was time to say goodbye to the team and leave for everyone’s own destinations. Hopefully we would see everyone again in 2 years at the next international tournament but we knew we wouldn’t be playing with Bronson again as he was going to be 18 in two years’ time. We bid everyone farewell and left for the bus stop, hoping I would see everyone again.