Up against strong Malaysian opponents amid thunderous cheers from a partisan crowd, Singapore para-bowler Ismail Hussain was unfazed as he took gold at the Asean Para Games (APG) yesterday.
The 33-year-old posted 1,303 pinfalls over six games to beat home favourites Rizal Hassan (1,216) and Noresham Manaf (1,120), who won the silver and the bronze medals respectively.
His victory prolonged an undefeated streak in the TPB3 event that began in 2011, when he made his Games debut in Solo, Indonesia.
While bowling was not contested at the 2014 Myanmar Games, Ismail retained his title at the 2015 Singapore APG.
The TPB1-3 classification group is for visually-impaired athletes, where a higher number in the classification category indicates a lower level of impairment on the part of the athlete.
Said Ismail, who works as a security officer: "The crowd cheering behind me was the loudest I've encountered so far in all the competitions I've been to.
"But I told myself and my fellow Singapore bowler who was beside me (Wendy Wong), 'Look, they're cheering for me'."
His quest to retain his crown came under threat midway through the competition yesterday, as he held a slender lead of just 16 pinfalls over Rizal after the fourth game.
Ismail did not track the scores, preferring instead to remain focused on his game, but he could sense that the momentum was with his Malaysian opponent.
Ismail, who trains four times a week, said: "The crowd was going crazy when the Malaysian bowler was making seven or eight strikes in a row. I knew it was anyone's game and I could be trailing.
"To beat Malaysia, a powerhouse in South-east Asia, in Malaysia was not an easy thing to do."
Though he does not require a mobility aid to move around, his vision is blurred to such an extent that he has to hold his mobile phone close to his nose in order to read text.
On the bowling lanes, he relies heavily on his coach Sam Goh and depends on him "as my eyes" to help him position each bowl.
He picked up bowling in 2007 when he was working as a customer service officer at the National Service Resort and Country Club's bowling centre, attracted by the sound of a clean strike and how it delights his auditory sense.
Said Ismail, who just last month emerged triumphant at the IBSA (International Blind Sports Federation) Tenpin Bowling World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan: "It was like crispy goreng pisang, when the bowling balls hit the pins.
"I was attracted to the sound of pins falling."
With this victory, Ismail now has a cumulative total of four golds, one silver and a bronze from his three appearances at the APG.
He is looking to add to his haul when he competes in the mixed doubles today and mixed trios and mixed team tomorrow.
Another Singaporean who finished on the podium yesterday at Sunway Mega Lanes was Rex Tan.
He scored 1,230 pinfalls to win a bronze in the mixed singles TPB10 event. He finished behind Thailand's R. Phisitthanaku (1,284) and Malaysia's Muhamad Amin (1,260).
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu was present to support Singapore's bowlers.
"I think they train very hard and they want to do their best and make Singapore proud of them," she said. "That's the most important thing - to show strong fighting spirit and true sportsmanship."