SEA Games: Lee, 59, is Singapore's oldest medallist after clinching lawn bowls silver

59-year-old Lee Yuan Min has won Singapore's first medal in lawn bowls since the 2007 SEA Games with a silver medal.
59-year-old Lee Yuan Min has won Singapore's first medal in lawn bowls since the 2007 SEA Games with a silver medal.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Lee Yuan Min has a collection of 60 or so medals at home, all of them stored in a cupboard for the past 42 years, the stories behind most of them forgotten.

But a silver he claimed at the SEA Games in lawn bowls today (Sunday) will now take pride of place in the middle of his cabinet. It is an achievement that will be etched in his memory for a long time.

"(This medal) means quite a lot. It means that I'm bringing some honour to my country and to myself," said the 59-year-old Lee of his first medal as a national athlete.

"I can stand a little taller among my fellow bowlers, even though I'm not very tall."

He lost 6-21 to Malaysia's Muhammad Soufi Rusli in the men's singles final at Kuala Lumpur's National Lawn Bowls Centre.

His silver is Singapore's first medal in the sport since the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand, when Chia Tee Chiak also won silver in the men's singles.

The 1.7m Lee, a former Combined Schools volleyball player, believes that had he been taller, he could have represented Singapore in the sport.

He also dabbled in squash and badminton and was a sprinter, but by his own admission never reached the standards required to don Singapore colours.

It is why, 42 years after winning his last medal as a school athlete, he deems his SEA Games silver his "best achievement" to date.

His feat also means he is currently Team Singapore's oldest medallist at the KL Games.

Told of this statistic, he pumped his fist and said: "I'll be 60 soon, but I don't feel 60. I feel like I'm about 40 years old... like I am full of energy."

It was around the age of 40 that Lee first picked up lawn bowls.

A junk fax advertising lawn bowls lessons one day caught his eye. He then signed up for lessons, sending his enrolment form via fax, and his schoolboy dreams of representing Singapore were reignited.

In 2011, he approached Bowls Singapore, the national sports association, and has been part of the national set-up since.

Lee, who turns 60 in October, has been based in Hong Kong since 1989 after marrying a Hong Kong native.

He now returns to Singapore almost every month to play in lawn bowls tournaments. Despite admitting that the back-and-forth travelling can get "tiring", Lee said: "How many people have chances to represent Singapore in sport, especially at my age?

"There's no chance for me to represent Singapore (in the sports I used to play).

"But I'd like to represent Singapore and since I play this sport, this is about the only chance I will get and I have to take full advantage of it."

Lamenting that he should have started playing lawn bowls earlier, Lee added: "At my age I can still play but to be a better player, you need to have stamina, strength, balance and control - the young men will do better.

"The international competitors are all quite young. Of course, they all started young, which is why they can achieve their peak now."

Three of the world's top 10 male lawn bowlers are in their 30s. World No. 6 Robert Paxton is 39, while No. 7 Stewart Anderson is 32. Eighth-ranked Jamie Chestney, 30, is the youngest man in the top 10.

Lee hopes the sport will grow in Singapore the same way he has watched it blossom in Hong Kong.

He believes that having more indoor greens for lawn bowling in hot and humid Singapore will attract more people to the sport.

"Once you put the green in, people will come and play and the standard will improve - that's what has happened in Hong Kong," he added.

cnicole@sph.com.sg