NOMINEE #1 JAZREEL TAN (BOWLING)

Tenacity right up her alley

Jazreel Tan found release from years of disappointment after she did well in the Incheon Asiad. She aims to strike again in the SEA Games.
Jazreel Tan found release from years of disappointment after she did well in the Incheon Asiad. She aims to strike again in the SEA Games.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Asiad gold medallist even changed her swing in a bid to pin down success

JAZREEL Tan strides into the Singapore Sports Institute gym, the words of physiotherapist Fabian Yeo still ringing in her ears.

Yeo's instructions after a 45-minute session in the adjoining room are to refrain from pushing her body, already on the brink of protesting after a string of injuries, too hard.

But Tan, ever the perfectionist, has already forgotten the advice as she joins her national bowling team-mates. For the next two hours, under the gaze of strength and conditioning coach Julian Lim, the bowlers stretch, lift weights, perform squats and chin-ups, sprint and cycle.

The training, in particular the stretching exercises, can be monotonous. But it is something Tan, 24, is familiar with.

In a sport where movements are seldom varied, where consistency is prized and one to which she has dedicated half her life, hers has been a tale of perseverance to improve her game.

Talent brought her fame when, at 14, she became the country's youngest national bowling champion in 2004.

But, a decade later, it is commitment that has given her validation and a sense of peace.

At last year's Asian Games in Incheon, Tan captured a gold, two silvers and a bronze - her four medals in South Korea making her Singapore's most bemedalled athlete at the quadrennial event.

It has earned Tan a spot as one of five nominees for The Straits Times' Athlete of the Year award.

To say that she had unfinished business at the Games would be an understatement. In 2006, she was heartbroken after poor form saw her cut from the final squad.

Four years later, she again suffered bitter disappointment as she and Jasmine Yeong-Nathan were the only two female keglers to return empty-handed.

"I've had a lot of history of ups-and-downs with the Asian Games, so to be able to come away with those medals felt good.

"I don't want to use the word redemption but it was definitely a load I needed to get off my shoulders," she said.

The path to vindication at October's Asiad began in 2013.

After returning from a successful four-year stint at Wichita State University, where she graduated magna cum laude and was twice named Collegiate Bowler of the Year, she made the surprising decision - following discussions with her coaches here - to overhaul her swing.

Such a transition - likening it to Tiger Woods and his numerous swing changes - was never going to be easy but was necessary in the long term, said national coach Remy Ong.

Together, they spent countless hours trying to shorten Tan's backswing and slow down her ball speed to enhance her high rate of ball revolution.

"It would give her more ammunition in terms of shots on the lanes and make her more versatile in her releases which was important to cope with different lane conditions," noted Ong, a triple gold medallist at the 2002 Asiad.

This was a calculated risk that appeared to backfire initially.

Aside from a stage victory at the Brunswick Euro Challenge in Germany in March 2014 that momentarily lifted her spirits, Tan's form and belief were heading towards the gutter.

But it all came together in Incheon. After opening with 245 pinfalls in the women's singles at the Asiad, her confidence returned - and so did the medals, first a silver, then another before a historic team gold.

Now another gold is in her sights, at this year's SEA Games on home soil.

"Everyone is expecting us to sweep all the events and the pressure will be huge," said Tan, whose best result was a Masters' silver at the 2005 SEA Games.

"Hopefully, last year's experience will help but that doesn't mean I can stop working."

Success, as Tan will attest, is a daily grind. And she has already started her long toil.

jonwong@sph.com.sg