Present perfect takes aim at past perfect

Present perfect takes aim at past perfect
Joel Tan.

For the first eight consecutive strikes, Joel Tan is, in his own words, "just going through the motions".

It is on the ninth attempt - just four strikes away from bowling's holy grail of a perfect game - that his heart beats faster and sweat beads down his forehead.

"I get very nervous, but I keep reminding myself it's about the process," said the 19-year-old.

So he does not change his routine: two deep breaths through the mouth, one through the nose, and then precisely five measured steps forward to release the ball.

Down went the pins, and up went Tan's standing in the Singapore bowling fraternity last week, as he became the first local kegler to bowl four perfect games in a single competition.

His feat, achieved across three days at the 15th Milo International Junior All-Stars Bowling Championship in Malaysia, means he has already notched six 300-pinfall games in his fledgling career.

Having claimed his first 300 at the QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup in Russia in November last year and repeated the effort at the Malaysian Open in May, the teenager is just one shy of Jack Wong's all-time mark of seven perfect games in official competitions.

"To be the next 'Mr Perfect' would be pretty cool," said the Republic Polytechnic sports and leisure management final-year student.

A stickler for superstition, he used the same three-hole, 6.8kg reactive resin ball for all 48 strikes, and always sat in the same pose on a particular seat during breaks. Two of the four perfect games were bowled with blisters on his ball-throwing right hand.

"Maybe at future events I need to recreate the pain I felt," the bubbly youngster says with a wry smile.

But even after he won the Boys Open title - and a RM25,000 (S$9,500) cash prize - at the Sunway Mega Lanes on Tuesday, Tan's imperious showing still suggested to national coach Remy Ong that there were some imperfections.

The former world champion lectured Joel for straightening up on a particular roll which nearly missed the corner pin, which still fell due to a fortunate ricochet.

The 36-year-old also noted that favourable lane conditions - oily in the middle and more friction on the outside - contributed to a remarkable 30 perfect games at the championship.

"What Joel did was great but my job is to keep working him hard to make him a more complete player," said the 2002 Asian Games triple gold medallist.

"You can call me a coach from hell, but the results will prove if I'm right or wrong."

The former king of Singapore bowling is a no-nonsense coach, known for dishing out 15-minute wall sits if national players fail to follow instructions during training.

But it is all done with a goal in mind: re-establishing the country's male keglers as a force to be reckoned with alongside their more illustrious female counterparts, like Jazreel Tan and Shayna Ng.

Joel himself is driven to build on what he calls the "miracle in Malaysia".

After returning home to praise and teasing from friends and family, he dived straight back into his daily routine of three-hour sessions on the lanes and a further two hours working out in the gym.

There is no secret to strikes, he says, besides hard work and repetition.

The Singapore Sports School graduate picked up the game at age nine during a family outing, using two hands to roll the ball because it was "way too heavy".

Just five years later, he scooped up the Singapore Open Under-18 title. Last year, he also lifted the men's crown at the Singapore National Bowling Championship.

While the all-time perfect game record is within strking distance, Tan's sights are set firmly on the SEA Games in June.

He said: "The only thing more perfect than a perfect game would be winning a (SEA Games) medal on home soil."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Dec 07, 2014.
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