As a boccia player, David Smith OBE has competed at four Paralympic Games, including Tokyo 2020, where he defended his Individual BC1 title, and became flagbearer for ParalympicsGB at the closing ceremony. This year, David was awarded an OBE for services to boccia, having previously received his MBE in 2017 in the New Year Honours. Most recently, David won Gold at the Rio de Janeiro 2022 World Boccia Cup, and amongst his other competitions, he won Gold at both the World Championships in 2018 and the European Championships the following year, and he won his first major international individual medal in 2007, winning Gold in the Vancouver World Cup, as well as winning Gold in the Team event. In May, David was announced as Senior Sportsperson of the Year at the Eastleigh Sports Awards, and he is currently working towards competing at the World Championships in December. David answered our questions about winning Gold at this year’s World Boccia Cup in Rio, defending his Individual BC1 title at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and being awarded an OBE for his services to boccia.
Earlier this year, you won Gold at the Rio de Janeiro 2022 World Boccia Cup, what was the event like to attend?
The World Cup was good. It was a replacement venue from Montreal, due to COVID restrictions in Canada, so the organisers did a good job at short notice.
How was it returning to Rio after winning Gold at the Paralympic Games in 2016?
It was nice to see the venues again and the Wall of Fame for all the medalists in the park. It felt like the time had passed very quickly but it brought back some good memories.
Last year, at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, you defended your Individual BC1 title, how did this feel?
It is hard to describe what winning in Tokyo 2020, such an incredible event, feels like, especially now the emotions have returned to normal. You are on such an emotional journey, I was totally euphoric.
What was the experience like being a ParalympicsGB flagbearer at the closing ceremony?
Being ParalympicsGB flagbearer was a surprise and my biggest honour being an athlete. To represent all UK and NI Paralympic sports, not just Boccia, and carry the iconic flag is special.
After the pandemic stopped competitions around the world, how was it returning for the first time when competitions could restart?
Tokyo 2020 was our first competition back after the pandemic so no one really knew what to expect. I’m glad I came back stronger, physically and mentally, because my opponents pushed me harder than ever before.
What are some of your favourite memories from attending four Paralympic Games over the years?
Every Games throws up unique memories. The Team medal ceremony in Beijing, home crowd in London, dealing with raw emotions in Rio and channelling that into my run to the final or playing with total freedom on live TV in Tokyo. The experiences shared with squadmates away from the courts that will never be forgotten. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I’ve been fortunate to have four unique ones.
Is there anything you enjoy most about staying in Paralympic villages and representing Great Britain at the Games?
I try to enjoy everything in a Paralympics but I love the extra attention we get as athletes and the atmosphere that is created. In boccia, we are rarely blessed with attention so when it comes I try to make the most of it.
Can you tell us about winning the 2018 World Championships in Liverpool and at the European Championships in 2019?
It’s crazy to think the World Championships in 2018 is four years ago now and it almost feels like a different era. It was the first boccia event that was ticketed and had the infrastructure for spectators. It was at the time when I was most dominant in my category and I enjoyed the opportunity to play in front of a home crowd again.
2019 was a very difficult year for me on a personal level and my form dipped as a result. It took a lot of effort to regain my form and the Europeans in September and the World Open in November were my last two tournaments before COVID. Thankfully, I was able to use lockdown to learn from 2019 and change my mindset for future events.
In 2007, you won your first major international individual medal, winning Gold at the World Cup, along with the Team achieving Gold, what was this like?
Vancouver 2007 was a breakthrough for me. I was only 18 and I was not necessarily convinced I could be the best player in the world. I got on a bit of a roll in the individual event and ended up comfortably winning the final. Probably more importantly we learned to get over the line in the Team event which directly contributed to our success in Beijing.
What do you remember most from making your major international debut in 2005 at the European Championships?
I remember beating Francisco Beltrán from Spain 6-0 in my first game. I later found out he was ranked 6th in the World. Winning Team Silver and losing to Portugal in the Final set up healthy respect I’ve had with them ever since. Watching our captain Nigel Murray play Fernando Ferrera in the BC2 Semi-Final was an eye-opening experience because of the quality and intensity of the battle.
How different does it feel being part of a team as opposed to competing individually?
From a physical point of view, Team feels very different to an individual game because you spend a long time not throwing so building momentum is a collective thing whereas individually I have full control over my tempo. With only two balls there’s more pressure on each shot to be effective and you have other people your performance has an effect on. So I think Team has higher emotions and is probably more satisfying when you win but more painful when you lose.
In May, you won Senior Sportsperson of the Year at the Eastleigh Sports Awards, what was it like to receive the award at the ceremony?
Eastleigh Sports Awards is always a nice event for me. It’s good to be recognised in your town of birth. It’s a place and event I feel at home at.
After previously receiving an MBE for services to boccia, you then received an OBE this year, how did it feel to be awarded the titles?
It feels great to be recognised by your country, it’s a proud day for my whole family. This year I was able to share the experience with my sister in Windsor Castle.
How did you get into boccia and what advice would you give to someone new to the sport?
I got into boccia at school. First at primary school when I wasn’t very good. But then I went to Treloar School in Alton, it was a cross between St Trinians and Hogwarts for disabled kids, and they taught me lots of things and winning was one of them! One day in Year 9, I found myself as British champion in boccia aged only 14. The rest is history.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I work away from boccia part-time as a nutrition coach, which I really enjoy. I also like being outside in Swansea enjoying the beach and the fresh air.
Do you have any competitions you are currently working towards?
In my line of work, there is always another competition… Currently, the next target is the World Champs in Rio in December.
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