ST Athlete of the Year: Losses won't knock national kegler Cherie Tan down

Cherie Tan was the first Singaporean to win the Masters title at the World Bowling women's championship. She also has a SEA Games women's team gold and a Storm-Domino's Pizza Cup win under her belt.
Changes that Cherie Tan made to her game in 2018 did not immediately bear fruit but the determined and focused bowler plugged on - ironing out minor details in her game - and this led to her multiple successes. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
Changes that Cherie Tan made to her game in 2018 did not immediately bear fruit but the determined and focused bowler plugged on - ironing out minor details in her game - and this led to her multiple successes. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Tan finally shines after over a decade of hits and misses for a winning 2019 season

Defeats can be tough to take, but they can also be great teachers, and Cherie Tan can attest to this. Before a phenomenal season last year, the national kegler found herself repeatedly falling short and narrowly missing out on the biggest prize.

Then came the breakthrough last August, when she became the first Singaporean to win the Masters title at the World Bowling Women's Championships in Las Vegas. She came close in 2015, finishing second in the singles.

The 31-year-old said: "There was a barrier because I was finishing second and third for a lot of competitions in the past few years and for the world championships.

"I didn't start off very well. For the singles, I finished 24th even though I felt like I bowled well and I really questioned whether it was worth it to stay and try again because I'd been doing it for the past few years.

"It was frustrating to come close in previous editions of the championships and not make it, but that spurred me on to work harder and achieve my goal in the end."

Once Tan knocked down that hurdle, she was unstoppable. A week after her historic triumph in Las Vegas, she became the first Asian to bag the Professional Women's Bowling Association Players Championship.

But she was not done for the year. She captured two more titles in December - the SEA Games women's team gold with Shayna Ng, New Hui Fen and Daphne Tan in Manila and the Storm-Domino's Pizza Cup in South Korea.

Her multiple achievements last year earned her a nomination for The Straits Times Athlete of the Year Award.

Winning back-to-back tournaments in bowling is difficult, said national women's coach Jason Yeong-Nathan, noting oiling patterns are different for every competition.

These determine how the ball moves on the lanes and requires a bowler to analyse how the ball reacts and adjust accordingly.

Apart from tackling the different lane conditions, consistency is also a mental game.

Tan said: "We know that we can win one and after that just fall off.

"So I didn't go in thinking about the previous tournament that I'd just won. So I went in there, I reset and focused on my process like I've usually been doing, which was to throw it one shot at a time."

She stressed however, that last year's form was the result of over a decade of hits and misses.

In 2018, in preparation for the Asian Games, she made some tweaks to her game, but she had a disappointing tournament as the women's team finished seventh.

But she believes these failures played a significant role in her development, adding: "It was a risk that I had to take but, I guess, without those mistakes I would not have changed after the Asian Games and I may not have had such a good year in 2019."

Instead of becoming disillusioned, she worked even harder, ironing out minor details in her game, like lengthening her ball-release point and making sure her swings were straighter to allow her to deliver accurate shots consistently.

She would vary the way she approached the lanes in different competitions to discover what worked or failed, which helped her improve her decision-making.

Yeong-Nathan praised her dedication to her craft, saying: "She pushes herself more than what a normal athlete does.

"She'll be so focused in training that she doesn't feel any pain, so she'll only feel it after.

"She'll go through three hours of training and say no, I'm not done yet, I need to accomplish my goal for the day.

"Whenever she wants to achieve something, she will be so focused on getting it that nothing will stop her."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2020, with the headline 'Losses won't knock her down'. Print Edition | Subscribe