People

SEA Games: Living his schoolboy dream

At 59, Lee is making the most of his chance to represent S’pore, winning lawn bowls silver

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

But a silver the Singaporean claimed at the SEA Games in lawn bowls yesterday 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 of his first SEA Games medal as a national athlete. “I can stand a little taller among my fellow bowlers, even though I’m not very tall.”

The 1.7m-tall Lee lost 6-21 to Malaysia’s Muhammad Soufi Rusli in the men’s singles final at Kuala Lumpur’s National Lawn Bowls Centre yesterday.

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

Lee believes that, had he been taller during his days as a combined schools volleyball player, he could have represented Singapore in the sport. He also dabbled in squash, badminton and was a sprinter, but by his own admission never reached the standards required to don Singapore colours.

Lee Yuan Min competing in the lawn bowls men's singles final against Malaysia's Muhammad Soufi Rusli. He lost 6-21 but his silver makes him Team Singapore's oldest medallist at the Kuala Lumpur Games.
Lee Yuan Min competing in the lawn bowls men's singles final against Malaysia's Muhammad Soufi Rusli. He lost 6-21 but his silver makes him Team Singapore's oldest medallist at the Kuala Lumpur Games. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

ROLL BACK THE YEARS

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.

LEE YUAN MIN, lawn bowls silver medallist, regrets that he picked up the sport late.

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

His feat also means he is Team Singapore’s oldest medallist at the Kuala Lumpur Games.

Told of this statistic, the former Chinese High School and Hwa Chong Junior College (now known as Hwa Chong Institution) student 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 he first picked up lawn bowls.

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

He approached Bowls Singapore, the national sports association for lawn bowls, in 2011 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 his wife, who is a Hong Kong native.

He returns to Singapore almost every month to compete in lawn bowls tournaments. Despite admitting that the travelling can get “tiring”, he 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 lawn bowling earlier, he 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.”

Three of the world’s top-10 male lawn bowlers are in their 30s. World No. 6 Robert Paxton is 39, No. 7 Stewart Anderson is 32, and No. 8 Jamie Chestney is 30.

Lee hopes the sport will grow in the Republic. He believes that having more indoor greens in hot and humid Singapore will attract more people to lawn bowls.

“Once you put the green in, people will come and play and the standard will increase – that’s what has happened in Hong Kong,” he added.

In the women’s singles, Singaporean Tham Mee Kim beat Thailand’s Nuanphak Ariyapattanaporn 21-18 to take bronze.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2017, with the headline 'Living his schoolboy dream'. Print Edition | Subscribe