In late-June, my American partner, P.J. Mallette flew over, and we played a long week of pre-Marseillaise competitions. After suckering a local shooter, Claude Masi, into joining us, we registered for the big one.
P.J., Claude, and I played our first game in a narrow court chalked directly on the uneven rock-filled parking lot of the stadium where OM Marseille plays its professional soccer matches. We won easily, 13-3, losing only one round. Our second game took place on a flat, sand-covered playground behind a school; we won in four frames, 13-0. At this point, more than 2,700 teams had already been eliminated, and 908 were still alive. For our third game, we got to play in the Parc Borély, the center of the competition, on a concrete sidewalk. Although we led 8-3 after five frames, we nonetheless lost 13-10, a result that still made us sick. (Our victorious opponents kept going, however, losing only in the round of 64, on the third day).
Unfortunately for us, it turned out that the third game is the crucial one, at least with respect to prizes. In 2002, teams that survive the first day were awarded cash (18 Euros), and foreign players earn a cash subsidy for each game won thereafter. The tournament is, in fact, the richest in the sport, with over 150,000 Euros in prizes. Instead of untold glory and wealth, we each received a litre of Ricard (P.J. prefers his own special cocktail of beer and coke), a t-shirt, a tote bag, and a special bouchon.
We spent the next three days strolling around the Parc Borély, watching one dramatic game after another. On day 3, two new competitions are added, for women, and youth (ages 6-14), which means the park is full of kids and families. The event becomes a festival, with live music on various stages and, of course, merguez and pastis. The youth competition drew 165 triplettes, and the women 80. I was able to swing a press pass for myself and Martha Lewis, an artist and photographer. P.J., in a solid performance as my son, got his own press pass, which meant free invitations to the various dinner events and ceremonies, unlimited Orangina and Ricard, and ringside seats for the semis and finals on the Vieux Port.
By the morning of Day 4 (Wednesday), seven games had eliminated all but sixteen triplettes from the main competition, but the teams captained by the three great favorites - Eric Bartoli (Marseille), Marco Foyot (Montpélier), and Gilles Gayraud (Marseille), all former champions — remained in the hunt. In the big surprise of the week, Bartoli lost his morning match, the 1/8 final, 8-13 after his shooter, “Passo,” (Michel Schatz, a three-time, world champion and a seven-time French national champion) missed ten straight shots. In the afternoon, we watched Foyot and company destroy one of the best of the city’s teams, 13-3.
On Day 5, the tournament moved to the Old Port for the semis and finals, and the finals of the youth and women’s tournaments. In the first semi, Gayraud-Michel Adam-Jean-Michel Puccinelli (all from Marseille) lost to Daniel Rizo (Nice)-Antoine Fernandez (Marseille)-Lionel Miquel (Nice), 11-13. The match was exceptional, in that none of the players were over the age of 36, and three of the six were under 25. At 11-11, Team Gayraud, with three balls in hand (Rizo out), had only to shoot one ball off the point to win. Puccinelli hit the ball solidly enough, but the opponent’s boule took the bouchon with it, three meters back; luck had thus given Team Rizo 13 on the ground. Puccinelli then missed badly with his second ball, and Michel Adam quite literally threw his remaining boule away, and the game was lost. Puccinelli ripped off his television microphone and threw it into the water, forcing France 3 to hire scuba divers to retrieve the precious article. Team Gayraud (the best triplette in Marseille over the last five years) also lost the 2001 final, after which Adam heaved his balls into the Port. Formal sanctions against the team were still pending when we left Cassis at the end of August.
The other semi-final was less dramatic, lasting only four innings and barely 30 minutes. Marco Foyot-Dominique Usaï (Puy de Dôme)-Pascal Milei (Macon) defeated Cano (Nice)-Nicolas Rivière (Nice)-Alessandro Napolitano (Genoa), fanny. Milei, whom some might remember as the shooter for France II in the losing effort against Tunisia in the finals of the 1999 World Championships in Montpélier, was dominant, hitting six of six shots with three perfect carreaux.
The final seemed almost a replay, with Foyot beating Rizo 13-0, again in four rounds. Milei hit 9 of ten, with four carreaux. Under extraordinary pressure, Team Rizo shot beautifully, hitting 12 of 16 balls shots, but their pointing utterly failed them. Meanwhile, Usaï managed to place each of his eight balls right on the bouchon.
The women’s final could not have been more thrilling. With the crowd of some 4,000 roaring every point, Team Innocenti defeating Team Agosta 13-11, after trailing 0-11! So, Marco Foyot wins his sixth Marseillaise, and Sylvette Innocenti adds a new honor to her collection of 4 world championships, 8 French and 35 departmental titles.
The best of Martha Lewis’ photos from the 2002 Marseillaise are being prepared and will be posted with the 2007 report.