Breakthrough for Singapore kegler Neo
Singapore bowler credits coaches and teammates after winning first international title
It was Jonovan Neo's first appearance in the step-ladder finals of an international bowling tournament.
But if the 21-year-old Singapore kegler was nervous, it certainly didn't affect him - he even went on to win the Dubai International Bowling Centre (DIBC) Open yesterday morning (Singapore time).
While Neo's win, which camewith a 25,000-dirham (S$9,000) prize money, was a pleasant surprise, his coaches believed that it was time Neo reaped the fruits of his labour.
National assistant bowling coach Vincent Lim, who had just joined the team this year, was impressed with Neo's performance in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Lim told The New Paper in a phone interview: "I've seen Jonovan as a kid competing in schools, and he has really progressed a lot, so to win this tournament as an underdog is a great achievement for him.
"Coming up with his first international win in his first trip of the year is also a breakthrough for him, and I'm sure this is just the beginning."
Neo emerged top seed after the third round with 1,466 pinfalls, with UAE's Khamis Al Shamsi (1,451), fellow Singaporean Muhd Jaris Goh (1,391) and UAE's Mahmood Al Attar (1,322) tailing him into the step-ladder finals.
Goh then defeated the two UAE bowlers to meet Neo in an all-Singaporean final. Neo lost the first game 258-234 but, as the top seed, he had the advantage of a second game which he won 248-201 to clinch the title.
Goh finished as runner-up and won 12,000 dirham. Khamis finished third.
Neo, who has about 10 international tournaments under his belt, admitted that while he achieved his target of a top-four finish, he had surpassed his own expectations by winning the tournament.
He said: "My target was to just make it into the top four, so I was hoping that I can even make it to the step-ladders.
"Luckily, I managed to get in as the top seed, which helped me calm my nerves because I had a two-game advantage. I knew that even if I lost the first game, I still had the second game to come back.
"It's definitely a great feeling to win my first international tournament. To have that first off my checklist, is really a feeling that can't be compared to anything else."
Neo credited his coaches and teammates for making him less nervous.
He said: "My coaches really helped me out there, and I told myself to take deep breaths and just roll the ball."
Neo, a diploma in hotel and hospitality management student, is awaiting national service (NS) enlistment.
Asked if he is worried that NS might hinder his bowling progress, he replied: "I won't say it will be a hindrance, probably just lesser time for me to train. But at the same time it will improve me as a person."
Overall, it was a creditable performance in Dubai by the Republic's five bowlers, who finished in the top nine out of a field of 89 competitors from 12 countries. Joel Tan, Darren Ong and Timothy Tham clinched fifth, seventh and ninth spots respectively.
Said Lim: "With two good performances in back-to-back tournaments (DIBC Open and the Emir Cup in Qatar two weeks ago), it sets a very good tone for the upcoming tournaments in the next few months."
A big assignment for the men's bowlers, who won SEA Games team gold last year, will be the Asian Games in August.