Sporting spirit

Rolling back the years for the SEA Games

Lawn bowler Chia Tee Chiak is headed to Kuala Lumpur later this month as the oldest member of Singapore's SEA Games contingent, where he will try to win another medal for the Republic to add to his silver from the 2007 Games.
Lawn bowler Chia Tee Chiak is headed to Kuala Lumpur later this month as the oldest member of Singapore's SEA Games contingent, where he will try to win another medal for the Republic to add to his silver from the 2007 Games.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

At his age, no one would fault national lawn bowler Chia Tee Chiak for choosing to kick back and relax in his retirement.

Instead, the 68-year-old is headed to Kuala Lumpur later this month as the oldest member of Singapore's SEA Games contingent, where he will try to win another medal for the Republic to add to his silver from the 2007 Games.

"Competing is always a challenge, I always want to beat the other guy. But the feeling is different when you get a medal," said Chia, who will compete in the men's doubles.

The fact that he will likely be older than most, if not all, of his opponents is motivation rather than a deterrent.

Said Chia: "Stronger opponents perk me up. When the chances of winning are less, you feel like you want to win more."

He counts as his fondest sporting memory the victory at the 2007 SEA Games over Malaysian Safuan Said who, at 25, was three decades younger, and the favourite in the men's singles.

Here, age has no advantage, whether youth or experience. It's all your ability to see the situation. Where do you find other games that give older folks the chance to represent Singapore?

CHIA TEE CHIAK, 68, national lawn bowler who started playing the sport 20 years ago.

"The Malaysians are our biggest rivals and he was their No. 1 player then, so of course I felt very good," said Chia, who eventually lost to Brunei's Naim Brahim in the final.

Said would go on to become world champion in the men's singles at the World Outdoor Bowls Championship the next year.

The goal of lawn bowling is to roll balls, called bowls, closer to a smaller white ball than the opponent does. It may look decidedly lethargic next to sports such as football and basketball, but it offers an outlet for older athletes like Chia, whose competitive fires still burn fiercely.

Said Chia, who started playing the sport 20 years ago at a sprightly 48 during a company-organised competition: "Outsiders may find the game slow. You roll the ball and wait but actually you have to do a lot of thinking.

"Here, age has no advantage, whether youth or experience. It's all your ability to see the situation. Where do you find other games that give older folks the chance to represent Singapore?"

Even so, the father of a grown son acknowledges that this could be his last Games. He said his wife and son do not watch him play, but are supportive.

He has had to wait 10 years for lawn bowls to make a return to the SEA Games, and reckons he might be too old in another decade's time.

"But you know, the competitive spirit can still be there. Some of the older bowlers are 70 or 80-plus and still holding their own competitions," said Chia.

"So as long as you are fit enough to walk a couple of hours, I think you can play the game."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2017, with the headline 'Rolling back the years for the SEA Games'. Print Edition | Subscribe