ST Athlete of the Year: Maturity maketh the champion

Reining in her temperament pays off for Ng as she finally hits the jackpot

SHAYNA Ng is a world champion bowler, but few know that her glorious career very nearly did not take off.

She shot to nationwide prominence in December when she won the QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup in Poland. That made her the second Singaporean - after Jasmine Yeong-Nathan in 2008 - to become the world champion.

Her achievement, which was one of the highlights in a golden year for Singapore sport, earned her a nomination for The Straits Times' Athlete of the Year award.

But it nearly did not turn out that way.

Ng had enjoyed a rapid rise in the sport. From a beginner as a 13-year-old in 2002, her talent ensured that she was in the national junior squad within a year. By 2006, she was already a full international.

But just as quickly, she was relegated back to the juniors a year later for exhibiting a poor attitude in training.

She slogged her way back into the senior team in 2008. Then, she started winning. First came the 2010 Asian Games (trios) crown, then the Hong Kong Open, Commonwealth Championships (doubles, mixed team) and SEA Games (team) titles in 2011.

But, despite her growing success, defeats rankled. None more so than the 2011 World Women's Championships (WWC) loss in Hong Kong.

Then, she had finished third despite a WWC singles record score of 1,601 over six games (average of 266) in the preliminaries, beating the previous mark by almost 200 pinfalls (1,407). But she failed to deliver in the final rounds.

Ng recalled: "Back then, I would blame everyone and everything but myself. I would say that the competition format was unfair.

"I was always in denial. It made me feel better for a while but not in the long run."

The 23-year-old then gave the assurance that that is all in the past. She now uses cue words tailored to calm her down in certain situations during competition.

"Stay aggressive", "focus on the process, not outcome"... mental pointers such as these.

"I've always needed that little bit more control at the most crucial moments. I used to be nervous, especially at step-ladder tournaments," she said.

"Those cue words have helped me block my opponent out from my mind and let me play my own game."

And despite the pain, she is thankful for the defeats she had suffered previously for the experiences are priceless.

Ng explained: "You can train every day but experience is something that cannot be trained.

"You can be very talented but you will still need to respond to the pressures of real competition."

The practice, the hardened psyche, the wisdom and the muscle memory all came together in spectacular fashion in Poland as she ended 2012 with the world crown on her spiky hair.

She began 2013 in similar fashion, winning the International Championships in Japan, which come with a prize purse of US$60,000 (S$73,500) and pitted her against 118 other women.

But hunger is driving her on.

She said: "I keep telling myself that I've not won anything yet. There's another important game still to play."

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