PFA Board member Terry Dando recently spent some time in America. Whilst there he participated in the USA Petanque Open Doubles Titles.
Here's his report on his adventure.
AMELIA ISLAND – USA OPEN DOUBLES 2017
I was lucky enough to be in America when the 2017 USA Open Doubles was being held on Amelia Island, Florida. Amelia Island is just off the coast of North East Florida. It is barely an island, merely a big step over some wetland meandering streams and back on the dry land again. It is very historic, with the homes and hideouts of pirates and privateers built on the coast and Southern mansions lining the streets.
The local petanque club found me a partner….his claim to fame was that he spoke “Australian” as his son lives in Perth. Now this may sound funny, but amongst all the “y’alls”, “darntootins’”, “grits” and “cattywampus’” it was a great relief to be with someone who understood me.
The Doubles is held every year in November in the Historic District of Amelia Island called Fernandina Beach. It is hosted by the Amelia Island Boules Club and sponsored, supported and organised by the City Commission (Council).
One hundred pistes were set up by putting up barriers and dumping gravel on a carpark. There is absolutely no piste preparation other than tamping down the gravel – to a certain extent. So there are pistes sloping away in the corners, with holes and hills, and after rain, watercourses. Some are smooth like cement and lightning fast and others have so many large pebbles and rocks it is like an obstacle course. BUT – it is the same for everyone.
The organising committee brought eight present and former World Champions from France….They call themselves ”The Elite Team”. Some of them had won a World Championship twelve times. What hope did we mere mortals have?
On the first morning when I went to breakfast I wondered how I knew some of the players in the dining room…..and then realised that I had watched them on Youtube for so many hours they seemed like friends.
The Competition is open to any doubles teams. Players who are not licensed members of a petanque club sign a waiver before the competition starts. Beginners, amateurs, advanced players and champions all play together in a random draw on the first day.
At registration each team selects a ‘goodie bag’ and in that bag is their number. The draw had already been done (not an easy job with 100 teams), so it was then a matter of turning up at your allotted piste and finding out who your opposition was!!!! A very daunting experience indeed. Some poor team, with very little competition experience, drew the current French champion and his partner who was the Belgian singles champion for 2017.
Rich and I turned up at piste 32 to find that we were playing two women from the current USA Women’s team, who are off to represent the USA in all the major tournaments in 2018. I am very pleased to say, much to the chagrin of the ladies, we won convincingly. From that game on our fortunes were mixed. We won three games well, but lost to a team of locals – who had the piste which dropped away at the corner by 4 inches, down pat, and to the current Mexican Doubles Champions. I think (hope) we worried the Mexicans who were very loud and flamboyant at the beginning of the match but became quiet and concentrated as we battled on – only losing 12/13. We could have had them…..!!!!
The top 32 teams at the end of Saturday’s games went into the finals on Sunday– for the $10,000 dollars. Rich and I were in the AA Concourse and won the first two games before losing to a very fit young couple with a collective age of 55 – ours was 143….. We did ourselves proud though and the young couple were charming and very gracious…even clapping when we managed to win an end.
The Grand Final between a French team and a Canadian team was amazing. The string lines were removed from four pistes and the game was played over the whole terrain, in any direction chosen by the players. Before the game started the Chief Umpire and others collected handful after handful of stones and gravel and threw them all over the area to make play as difficult as possible. As spectators we were watching with mouths agape….
The French team were the victors on the day, but both teams were absolutely magnificent…..The audience was spellbound….only the “crack” as another boule flew off the piste was heard as the game progressed. It was worth going to Amelia Island just to see that game…. Watching similar play on YouTube just does not compare to the ‘live action’.
The venue was wonderful and the hosts and organisers showed us Southern hospitality at its best. On Friday night all the restaurants in the town put on a free feast for everyone with their signature dishes such as paella, fish, pasta, salads, etc. There were hundreds of people in an enormous gazebo…..and there was food left over, such was the bounty. Bands of all types played and people sang and danced…..
The Competition was played in the best of spirits. Of course there could have been, but I didn’t see any disputes or arguments between players. The umpiring was unobtrusive. Over the two days we only had to call the umpire once. He quizzed us very carefully (both teams) as to how we had measured and what we thought the measurements were of the two closes boules. He then measured and the difference was 2mm. He congratulated both teams for a good call and told us that if the difference had been more than 5mm both teams would have been issued with a yellow card for wasting the Umpire’s time……Oh dear….a bit daunting indeed!!!
A few observations:
Skills were world class
Eighteen countries represented
Instructions were given in four languages
Shooting in semi and grand finals was 95%
Players came to have fun as well as perform to their best.
The camaraderie between players and teams was genuine and mutual.
All teams played on equal basis….no separate gender/age awards
Good play was celebrated, winning shots lauded and losing play and shots acknowledged as ‘bad luck’.
Knowledge and tactics freely shared between players.
New friendships made and longstanding friendships strengthened
Petanque players talk and talk and talk and talk……
Even though the rules were clearly explained and written for all to read, players were smoking and imbibing adjacent to the piste.
Footwear was far from regulation……the crocs in the water weren’t the only ones there!!
Uniforms and hairstyles were varied and unique
And now some photos…to show how it really was…..