The final score was 6-1. A group of Australian team officials in the crowd – along with a rogue blown up kangaroo – let their delight be known.
Before Wednesday, Australia had won only one boccia medal – bronze to Kris Bignall and Tu Huyhn in mixed pairs C1 ward event in Atlanta 1996.
“After the heartbreak yesterday, to get across the line is really awesome,” Michel said. “I’m hungry for more, but I’m really satisfied with this result. I’m a pretty good front-runner, so once I put the foot down I’m pretty hard to chase down.”
Michel crosses paths every so often with former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh, who said in an interview recently that the world No.4 player was as “committed as any athlete” he’d ever seen.
“He was outstanding and a little unlucky not to be playing for the gold,” Waugh texted the Herald afterwards. “I’m sure we’ll see him in Paris 2024 where the colour of the medal will change.”
Whether it’s Fearnley, Waugh or someone flicking on boccia for the first time, Michel is just happy people are enjoying the sport.
“To have a guy of such stature appreciate what I’ve done in this sport is really affirming,” Michel said of Waugh. “It makes me feel really good and that I’m on the right track.
“As for Kurt, he’s been the ultimate champion of the Paralympic movement. To see him get behind boccia recently has been huge for us. He was talking about how the success of boccia is really a true measure of the success of the Paralympic Games because it is a sport for the most physically disabled members of the community.”
Australian head coach Ken Halliday, who has been involved with the sport for more than 20 years, was blown away.
“It’s a bit surreal, I can’t believe it’s happened,” Halliday said. “We’ve waited for so long. I’ve been involved in the sport for 20 years and back then we thought we’d never see it. Dan is responsible for the sport where it is in Australia. He deserves every bit of that bronze medal.
“I’ve seen their lives change because of this sport.
“He never stops thinking about the game. He’s a very intelligent guy and he uses that to work through the game and tactics and strategies. It’s paid off for him.
“A shout-out to Ash too. She’s done an amazing job. She comes up with some great ideas. She is a big asset to Dan and this sport.”
Michel still has the teams event to go in Tokyo alongside Spencer Cotie and Jamieson Leeson but might need to reply to a few messages first.
“[My phone] is blowing up,” Michel said. “I just got off the phone to my mum and girlfriend. The support has been immense. The most special thing for me is the appreciation for boccia and most of the public in Australia. Not only my family and friends, but people are talking about the game and how much they love it. It’s so cool to see people riding every emotion.
“I’m hungry for more success and can’t wait to go again in three years.”
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