SINGAPORE — Most people think of bowling as an individual sport. The bowler stands alone in his lane, bowls without the assistance of others, and then sits alone while waiting for his next turn.
And yet, when Yahoo News Singapore met national bowlers Cherie Tan and Muhammad Jaris Goh at the Singapore Bowling@Rifle Range centre last month, both insist that retaining Singapore’s men’s and women’s team gold medals at the upcoming SEA Games in the Philippines would mean more to them than winning individual golds.
For they treasure the camaraderie among their teammates, and would do all they can to help all of them achieve top honours at the biennial Games.
“Standing at the top of the podium with six other teammates is definitely more shiok than standing up there alone,” Goh quipped.
Instrumental in capturing men’s team gold in 2017
The 24-year-old is well-regarded as the spark plug among the men’s team, firing up his teammates with his boisterous cheerleading and boundless energy at key competitions.
He was instrumental in inspiring his team to clinch a hard-earned team gold at the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games – Singapore’s first gold in the men’s team event in 22 years – as well as bronze medals in the 2018 Asian Games and World Men’s Championships.
And while the reigning Singapore Bowling Federation Bowler of the Year is keen to add a singles gold to his growing trophy collection, he insists that nothing beats the thrill of winning with his teammates.
“I just enjoy the atmosphere where all of us are feeding off the vibes of one another,” he told Yahoo News Singapore.
“I used to think I’m an individual player, but I definitely enjoy the energy of our team more nowadays. I think it’s because all of us don’t like seeing any of our teammates go home without a medal, so we try extra hard to push one another to do better.”
Calm winner among the women’s team
While Goh is a live wire amid the men’s bowling team, Tan is one of the calmest members of the women’s team. Rarely perturbed in high-pressure situations, the 31-year-old often comes across as reserved and undemonstrative, even after winning five golds and five silvers at the SEA Games since 2011.
For her, winning a team gold at next month’s SEA Games would mean a strong validation to this current generation of women’s bowlers.
The likes of Jazreel Tan (Asian Games gold medallist), Shayna Ng (world women’s champion), New Hui Fen (PWBA Tour Championship winner) and Tan’s younger sister Daphne (SEA Games gold medallist) have clinched top international honours for Singapore throughout the past decade.
Tan herself has been in outstanding form this year, winning two elite competitions – the World Bowling Women’s Championships gold and the QubicaAMF PWBA Players Championship title.
Yet the bowlers have come up short in the SEA Games team event for the past two editions, finishing second behind Malaysia in both the 2015 and 2017 Games. The last time the women’s team won the SEA Games gold was in Jakarta in 2011, while there was no bowling competition at the 2013 Naypyidaw Games.
“To win this team gold again would be extra significant for us, since we came close to winning for the past two Games,” Tan said.
“Everyone has been saying that our group is probably the most talented generation Singapore has seen, and I think we haven’t really played to our potential in team events.
“Winning more goals as a team would definitely solidify the idea that we have a world-class group of women’s bowlers.”
High expectations for national bowlers
Such are the high expectations that come with being a national team member in bowling, one of Singapore’s most successful sports.
Since the 1970s, bowlers like Henry Tan, Grace Young, Jack Wong and Remy Ong have produced a steady stream of gold medals at the SEA Games – and bowlers like Goh and Tan are expected to continue such a prolific streak.
So how do they deal with the weight of such expectations? Both insist that they block it out by being “focused on the process”.
“By focusing on what I can do and what I can control, I try to block out the negative thoughts that could affect my emotions during competition,” Goh said.
“If I’m struggling with form, the bowling coaches will be like a second pair of eyes during training, they will be suggesting adjustments to my swing and stance. We’re lucky to have a strong support team to keep us focused.”
Format change for team events
No doubt, when the SEA Games bowling competition begins on 3 December in Manila, the bowlers aim to be ready to spur one another to medal honours and maintain Singapore bowling’s winning tradition, even as the team event gets more competitive with a format change.
“In the past, the team competition takes the best five results from six bowlers, so a team will benefit if they have strong bowlers among all six,” Tan explained.
“Now the format is changed to take the results of only four bowlers. So it means a lot of countries can drop their weakest links, so only the strongest four will compete. So the competition standard will get higher.
“But the idea is to make sure you go out onto the lanes and deliver the shots you need to. Simple as that. And with our teammates spurring one another all the time, you can’t help but improve and not stay stagnant.”