They entered the cauldron of team competition as "boys" and left as an "awesome men's team". That tribute, paid by none other than Singapore Bowling Federation president Jessie Phua, was a fitting one to the nation's male keglers yesterday.
While all the pre-SEA Games attention was on whether the Singapore women bowlers could dethrone their Malaysian counterparts in Kuala Lumpur, it was the youthful men's team who nabbed the gold instead at Sunway Pyramid's bowling alley yesterday.
Cast in the shadow of their more illustrious female counterparts for so long, the team comprising Jaris Goh, Basil Ng, Darren Ong, Cheah Ray Han, Timothy Tham and Keith Saw recorded 6,399 pinfalls to end a 22-year wait for a men's team bowling gold.
They finished ahead of Indonesia (6,280) and Thailand (6,278). The Malaysians, who were looking to retain their men's team gold in front of the home crowd, finished fourth.
No wonder a jubilant Phua said: "It's a miracle gold. I'm immensely proud of my boys.
"We sent boys in to fight with the men and they didn't disappoint. This is such a morale booster and it will definitely fire them up."
The previous gold-winning Singapore team had featured former greats Jack Wong and Sam Goh - which explained why the current winners remained modest and grounded when asked how they compared to that 1995 squad.
"I won't say we overshadowed them (squad of '95). We look up and respect and want to be like them," said Goh, 22.
Saw, 23, added: "We are young and have a lot of potential. This can serve as a kick-start for men's bowling in Singapore and we can now look back and refer to this gold in the future knowing there is belief."
Ong, 21, echoed Saw's sentiments by saying that the win "will serve as motivation and inspiration" for the male bowlers.
"We've done it and can do it again," he said.
The women's team - comprising Bernice Lim, Cherie Tan, Daphne Tan, New Hui Fen and Shayna Ng - tried hard to emulate the men's team, but the hosts proved too strong as they retained their gold with 6,264 pinfalls.
Singapore (6,203) had to settle for silver, ahead of third-placed Philippines (6,075).
Mervyn Foo, Singapore Bowling Federation's technical and executive director, praised the men's team for listening to the advice of the whole coaching team.
"We had a detailed strategy and they stuck to it," said the 42-year-old. "Our sports psychologist Stevenson Lai also made sure the team were kept in the present moment and focus."
Foo also cited how video analysis provided for the team's coaches helped them "stay ahead of every lane".
Goh and Co. dedicated their victory to the late local icon and coach Henry Tan, who died on Aug 17.
Tham, 19, said: "The medal means everything, from the sacrifices we made to putting in all the hard work in training.
"It's also a way to give back to all the people who have supported us through our journey."