Team Singapore

Malaysia's Rafiq crowns Games debut with singles gold

The strikes deserted him, the 200-strong partisan home crowd at the Orchid Country Club were cheering on their favourite, who was next to him, and it was all getting too much for 18-year-old Malaysian bowler Rafiq Ismail.

Rafiq, who was making his SEA Games debut, bowled a 192, going under 200 pinfalls for the first time in his fifth and penultimate game.

His 48-point lead duly shrunk to just 20, as 19-year-old Singaporean Javier Tan got hot with a 246.

Malaysia's team psychologist was called in, his coach reassured him that another game of 200 or more would be enough to win, and this time, crucially, Rafiq and Tan were well away from each other.

Despite recording his worst round of the day with a 189 for a six-game total of 1,308 pinfalls, Rafiq survived a late surge by Thailand's Annop Arromsaranon - he fell short by only three pinfalls to take silver - and collected his first SEA Games gold medal.

FALTER

Tan couldn't string his strikes together and was hampered by a 4-6 split in his ninth frame, managing only a 185, and ultimately had to settle for bronze.

Rafiq, who picked up bowling as a four-year-old because his father runs a cafe at a bowling alley in Ampang, said: "I was really affected by the Singaporean supporters because I was next to Javier in the fifth game and they were cheering his every shot.

"Luckily, in the last game, we didn't bowl together and I could focus more.

"I didn't keep track of the scores. But my coach told me a spare in my final frame would be enough, and that's what I did."

In March, the new prince of South-east Asian bowling won four golds at the Asian Youth Tenpin Bowling Championships, and he represents a new wave of young keglers from the Malaysian conveyor belt of talent.

Like many others, Rafiq dedicated his win to the victims of the Sabah earthquake, and said: "I feel very sad to hear about the news and my heart goes out to the families of those affected.

"I pray that God will help them recover from this."

Tan was also satisfied with the bronze in a strong 41-man field.

"I guessed I was in contention after the 246, but I just took it one shot at a time," he said.

"I hit a good shot on the ninth but suffered a split. I don't think it played in my head because... while I would like to win gold, thinking about it wouldn't have helped.

"The crowd was electric, and it's a great feeling to win a medal after all the preparation we had."

SEA Gamesbowling