WHEN the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) awarded the 1998 Commonwealth Games to Malaysia, it changed the image of lawn bowls in the country.
Long perceived as a recreational sport played by aging pensioners, lawn bowls benefited from the government’s focus on hosting the country’s biggest-ever sporting event.
Centres of excellence were set up in the states and youngsters like Siti Zalina Ahmad and Nur Iryani Azmi were invited to try the sport.
Australian coaches were brought in and novice players became professionals by virtue of their inclusion in the 2006 AsiaComm squad.
The investment paid off in 1998 with three medals at the Kuala Lumpur Games – a silver through Saedah Rahim (women’s singles) and bronzes from the men’s pairs and women’s fours.
The big breakthrough, however, came in Manchester four years later when Siti Zalina won the singles gold. She created history by retaining her title in Melbourne on Friday, thus becoming the first Malaysian woman to win two consecutive gold medals in the Commonwealth Games.
Siti Zalina’s success was the second gold medal in lawn bowls after Nur Iryani, Azlina Arshad and Nor Hashimah overpowered the Australians in the women’s triples final.
Melbourne yielded two gold medals to Malaysia and although it fell short of the Malaysian Lawn Bowls Federation’s target of three, it was still a successful outing all right.
The men’s pairs of Safuan Said-Fairul Izwan Abdul Muin were also targeted for gold but they fell to eventual gold medallists Paul Foster-Alex Marshall of Scotland in the quarter-finals.
Welsh veteran Elizabeth Morgan, who lost to Siti Zalina in the final, praised her much younger Malaysian rival for her fighting spirit.
“Siti showed us the new face of lawn bowls. She is a very focused youngster,” said the 63-year-old Morgan, who finally has a medal to show after ending empty handed in three previous Games outings.
“I would have liked the other colour but that was not to be.”
Australia took the remaining three gold medals – in the men’s singles (Kelvin Kerkow) and triples (Mark Casey, Bill Cornehls and Wayne Turnley) and the women’s pairs (Lynsey Armitage and Karen Murphy).