SARASOTA — Myakka resident Gilles Canesse has won more national championships than he can remember.
He won his first title in 1994, in doubles, and won his third-consecutive triples title last year.
He’s one of the most decorated petanque players in the area and, yet, there is still one competition that has continually eluded him — the world championships.
Canesse attended the world championships once as a referee, but the Sarasota Club de Petanque co-founder is hoping this will be the year he can finally cross the threshold from spectator to competitor.
On Nov. 2 and Nov. 3, the Sarasota Club de Petanque will host the 2013 FPUSA National Men’s Triples Championships and World Championships Qualification Tournament, at its home courts at Lakeview Park, 7150 Lago St., Sarasota.
The tournament will determine which team will represent the United States in the Pan American Confederation Selection Tournament. The U.S. team will compete with teams from Canada, Haiti and Mexico for one of two spots at the International Federation of Petanque and Jeu Provencal Men’s World Championships Nov. 20 through Nov. 24, in Tahiti.
The top petanque players from across the country will be vying for a spot on the U.S. team, including Canesse, who will be competing in the triples championship.
“This is the big time,” says Canesse who, in addition to competing, also will serve as this year’s tournament director. “I’m just looking forward to being among the sport’s biggest players.”
Petanque is a French game that combines horseshoes and bocce ball. Players stand in a circle and try to throw a set of steel balls as close to a small wooden ball as possible.
Triples play is considered to be the international game, but all three levels pose their own unique challenges.
“Singles is interesting because the way you play is completely different,” Canesse says. “With each one, you have to adjust your game and the way you play.”
A native of France, Canesse began playing petanque when he was about 4 years old with his older brother, Freddy. Canesse started playing with plastic balls before graduating to steel petanque balls when he was 10 years old.
Canesse spent his childhood playing pickup games with family and friends and relishing in his nation’s pastime.
“In France, it’s like a national sport,” Canesse says. “Everyone has their own set of petanque balls inside their car.”
After moving to Florida in 1987, Canesse and his brother began playing petanque in a parking lot in Sarasota with some friends.
The two attended a competition in Lake Worth in the early ‘90s, but were unable to play because they weren’t associated with a club in the federation.
At that point, the two brothers, along with Christian Bouquet, founded the Sarasota Club de Petanque.
Since then, the club has grown to one of the largest clubs in the area. Members and their guests gather together every Thursday and Sunday to play and socialize.
Last year, Canesse and his nephew, Alex, were invited to play in the quarterfinals of a world championship qualifier. The pair did well in the beginning, even tying the game at 4-4, before one of the top petanque players and his doubles partner pulled away down the stretch.
“It was a lot of fun to play against him (the professional player),” Canesse said.
Now with his third triples championship under his belt, Canesse is focused on putting together one of his best performances, in the hopes of reaching the world championships and claiming the one title that continues to elude him.
“We’re very happy to have it here,” Canesse says. “It’s just like a Super Bowl for us, basically. We know we’re going to be playing against professionals, but you never know what can happen in a game.
“They might win 90 times out of 100, but all I need is one game,” he says.
For more information on the Sarasota Club de Petanque, visit www.sarasotapetanque.wordpress.com.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].