Tony Cheung and Stanley Lai did Hong Kong proud by earning themselves a berth in the coveted Australian Open held at Darebin, Victoria last month.
After winning in four qualifying matches, the pairs team made the final 64 of Australia’s richest lawn bowls event—a creditable effort for Hong Kong considering Asia’s lawn bowls powerhouse Malaysia needed three years to reach this milestone.
The HK contingent comprising six U25 and eight senior squad members—led by national coach Rita Shek and assistant Danny Ho (a veteran Hong Kong international)—was on an experimental training trip to Melbourne, Australia in February.
The 14 players were entered for the Last Chance Qualifying competition in three categories, namely Singles, Pairs and Fours, as a part of their fortnight programme designed by world champion coaches Lachlan Tighe and Choo Yih Hwa.
Flanking the Australian Open (AO) qualifying schedule were high-intensity drills trainings at bowling clubs in the Greater Melbourne region, including: the Yarra Glen Bowls Club featuring a 40 x 40 metre green—which is non-existent in Hong Kong; the blue carpet indoor green at Darebin—giving a whole new visual experience to HK players; and concluded with a test match against the top league teams of Bundoora RSL Bowling Club.
“I set out to win medals in the AO and challenged myself to excel in a high-performance environment against elite bowlers,” Cheung said after the experience. “I didn’t quite achieve that, but the experience I gained is invaluable.
“The training is a most worthwhile exercise for myself and for the squad. I have learned a lot in the past two months when in Melbourne and in the pre-travel sessions.”
HK Team freshman Kevin Fung, who fared well in the qualifying, echoed Cheung’s view, citing some new-found skills such as use of game plans, disciplined pre-match routine and, keeping track of performance statistics during practice and each match.
Fung nearly provided HK with another presence in the AO if he had won his fourth and final qualifying match in the Singles section. He attributed his progress to the various skill drills as well as the sport psychology tutorials before taking off, conducted by renowned sport psychologist Roy Chan.
“I adopted Dr Chan’s pre-tournament preparation and started my mental routine as early as three hours before a match. This enabled me to engage in combat mode from my first delivery in each match. That proved to be critical to my high performance in Darebin,” said Fung.
Meanwhile, Shek was delighted with her team’s results in their first expedition to the AO’s qualifying rounds, but remains focused on the future training of the squad.
“Kevin played some superb bowling in his matches including earlier in the Fours qualifying on Day 1 of the tournament,” Shek said. “But [lack of] stamina might have found him [out] in his last Singles match, which was his fourth match in a short space of 24 hours.
“It was a similar story for Tony and Stanley in the first round of the AO Men’s Pairs.
“That highlights the need of training camps of this kind,” Shek calculated. “The intensive match schedule on fast-paced greens in Australia made it all the more demanding in players’ mental toughness and physical strength.
“This is one of the areas Hong Kong will work on to make our team better and stronger.
“Hong Kong players are used to practice in team roll-ups. However, the intensive drills they received from the coaches really inspired them—perfect practice makes perfect,” added Shek.
Heron Lau, the Hong Kong Lawn Bowls Association official who runs the team, claims the training camp is a step in the right direction.
“To have qualifiers in the AO is a bonus,” said Lau. “However, the main aim is to expose our players to high-level competitions, such as the AO, in order to prepare them for the Asia Pacific and World Championships in 2015 and 2016.
“That said, the target this year is to achieve gold in the Asian Championships at Henan [China] in October in both U25 and Open categories.
“This is crucial for lawn bowls to retain Tier-B elite sport status on the HKSI funding list, which is a means to achieve the ultimate goal of winning medals in the Asia Pacific and World Championships,” Lau explained.
For the record: Cheung and Lai lost their Round of 64 Pairs match 7-17 to Brett Foley and Adam Galloway. Foley and Galloway progressed to the Quarter Finals where they lost to eventual Pairs title winners Andrew Rees and Brendan Baker.
Walter Kwok is an Officer with the Hong Kong Lawn Bowls Association.