SINGAPORE - After a strong showing at the Asian Lawn Bowls Championships that included a historic gold, the Singapore team are now hopeful the result will lift them to a first appearance at the quadrennial Commonwealth Games next year.
The squad of 10 completed their outing on Monday (Oct 9) in New Delhi with four medals, including top honours in the men's fours event. The women completed the haul with two silvers (singles, pairs) and a bronze (fours).
For a team largely looked upon as underdogs, gold at the Oct 4-9 annual competition, which attracted 13 teams, was unexpected. This was especially so for a men's side who were pitted against top seeds Hong Kong in the semi-finals.
That match ended in a stunning 22-3 win, but the final was not nearly as comfortable for the Singapore quartet of Bernard Foo, Anthony Loh, Pang Heng Heck and Melvin Tan.
Said Tan, the youngest member of the men's team who turns 33 tomorrow: "At the start, we were focused on being relaxed and just playing the best we can. I guess it got us a little bit tense and anxious as the game went on, when India suddenly surged forward with a strong lead after just three ends."
The team members exchanged few words, added Tan. Each was focused on trying to keep the score "tight" and "respectable".
It took nerves of steel and steely determination to finally level the score at 13-13 on the penultimate end, eventually taking the match - and bragging rights of being continental champions - 14-13.
On the women's side, Shermeen Lim clinched a silver in the singles event after she was beaten 21-14 by Malaysia's two-time Commonwealth Games champion Siti Zalina.
The Malaysians, a powerhouse of the sport in Asia, again stood in the Singaporeans' way in the pairs event. Lim partnered Tammy Tham but settled for silver after losing 3-18 to Siti and Auni Fathiah.
Tham - singles bronze medallist at the SEA Games in August and the only member of the Singapore squad who competed in Kuala Lumpur - was part of the team who took bronze in the women's fours. They were edged out 15-14 by Hong Kong in the semi-finals and settled for the joint-bronze. Lim Kwee Choon, Jane Low and Amira Goh completed the quartet.
While the result may seem a leap from the silver and bronze Singapore won at the SEA Games two months ago, the lawn bowlers say they have always been quietly confident.
"We knew we could do it," said Bowls Singapore president Francis Kwong, who noted that Singapore competed in only four events at the SEA Games. This was also the first time lawn bowls had featured at the biennial Games since 2007.
Lawn bowls will not feature at next year's Asian Games in Indonesia, but he hopes this result is proof that the athletes are worthy of competing at bigger events, specifically April's Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia. The qualifying mark set by the Singapore National Olympic Council for selection is the sixth-placed result from the preceding Games.
Kwong said: "This gives us a good base to try and develop (the sport). We have some depth. This gives us the confidence. We're putting together a multi-year strategic plan, and hopefully we'll have some support moving forward."
Said double medallist Lim, 28: "This shows that we have the aptitude and standards needed to compete at regional and even international levels."