Bowling brothers came, saw and conquered

Howard and Keith are the first to win doubles title at Games since 1997

THEY could barely speak at the end, their throats hoarse from repeated shouts of encouragement to each other and emotionally spent after a tense conclusion to the bowling men's doubles event.

Tied on 2,219 pinfalls with Indonesian duo Billy Islam and former Asian Games champion Ryan Lalisang before the deciding sixth game, everything was on the line for brothers Howard and Keith Saw.

An avalanche of strikes, explosive high-fives and deafening roars from the crowd later, the Singaporeans had combined to score 434 pinfalls for a 2,653 total to pip their rivals by a mere 25.

Malaysia's Johnathan Chan and Timmy Tan took bronze with a score of 2,574.

It capped a stunning result for the local siblings, who had never won a major international title before yesterday.

They became the first Singaporean male keglers to be crowned SEA Games champions since 2007. And also the first local men's doubles pair to triumph at the biennial Games since 1997.

"This is the culmination of three years of training and having won it with my brother makes it even more special," said Howard, who is 20 months older at 22.

The heavy piece of metal around their necks was also a weighty chunk of validation.

After all, in recent years it was the Republic's women's team, boasting world and Asian champions, who had been lavished with praise and attention while the men were seen as a work in progress.

Said Keith: "We've been in the shadows of the girls for a while so it's nice to show that we can compete at a high level like them as well. We want to be as good, no, better than them."

The fact that their victory also came just hours after Singapore's heavily-fancied women's team failed to finish on the podium in their doubles category was not lost on national coach Remy Ong.

He said: "I'm always being asked about the men and when is it their time to deliver medals for us. They proved their worth today and handled the pressure.

"I'm very proud of them. There are still more events to come and they mustn't be complacent but this was a big result for our men."

What made the achievement even more remarkable was that this was the first time that the siblings, who had picked up the sport 11 years ago, were competing as partners in the doubles category.

A combination of their age difference - which sometimes meant they competed in different age-groups - and coaches' preference had kept them apart, until now.

The unexpected gold was Singapore's second title at Orchid Country Club though the onus will once again be on the women to deliver more golds from today.

After cruising on the long oil configuration on Tuesday, they had struggled to adapt to the medium patterns and also blamed a wrong choice of bowling balls.

Malaysia's Esther Cheah and Sin Li Jane had no such difficulty on the lanes, totalling 2,651 pinfalls to win gold.

Compatriots Shalin Zulkifli and Syaidatul Afifah were third (2,524), just behind second-placed Indonesians Sharon Santoso and Tannya Roumimper (2,545).

Despite their difficulties, Singapore's women's team will probably still start as favourites for the remaining trios, team and masters events.

Said Singapore Bowling Federation president Jessie Phua: "We expected the ladies to blaze the lanes but we were caught flat- footed. Lessons were learnt and they will come back stronger and make amends. That's a promise."