Team Singapore's bowling coach Remy Ong (c) speaks to Shayna Ng (L) as her doubles partner Cherie Tan stands by during the Bowling women doubles final (Photo by Joseph Nair / Sport Singapore)
It was a somewhat unusual sight to see Remy Ong not take to the lanes and score consecutive strikes on route to a podium appearance. Recognised as the Republic’s most successful kegler who is now the national head coach of the Singapore Bowling Federation, Ong admits that he still longs to be in the thick of the action, where one needs to practise the art of achieving an equilibrium between adrenaline and razor sharp focus.
“I feel like I still want to be there on the lanes throwing the ball, but having said that, there’s now a bigger picture out there,” said Ong.
Judging from his demeanour during Block 2 of the Women’s Trios competition on Sunday, it was clear that Ong is taking his role as a mentor and coach very seriously, however much he misses being the person lighting up the scoreboard.
Dressed in a bright red Team Singapore jacket and with his arms crossed, he wore a sombre, contemplative look on his face throughout the competition on Sunday, even though it was clear from the last couple of games that his charges were well on the way to winning a medal. He was seen constantly speaking to his charges, either giving advice or encouragement that is often accompanied with an emphatic high-five. The squad of Cherie Tan, New Hui Fen and Jazreel Tan did go on to win the Silver, but still, Ong hardly flinched.
“I’m happy with the way they bowled today but result-wise, I’m not very satisfied. I won’t even talk about medal colours here. I’m just not an easily satisfied person,” he said.
“I think the result is something to celebrate, but I would say that I did not achieve the goals I had set for the team and myself. We’re have been so close yet so far two times in this competition and I believe that if we keep knocking on that door, the colour in their play that I’m looking for will come,” he added.
Team Singapore's Shayna Tan (c) and coach Remy Ong (R) cheer after a strike by Cherie Tan (L) during the Bowling women doubles final. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Nair / Sport Singapore)
Shayna Ng’s lacklustre form has been causing concern, and no one is clearer about the delicacies of this situation than Ong – because he has been in those exact, unforgiving, shoes before.
“She’s someone I have to be more concerned about because of her current status. So far she has yet to perform but don’t shut her out just yet – she’s the world champion after all and she knows what it takes to win. Coming to this competition she has a big burden on her shoulders. I know exactly how she feels because I’ve been there before. Now it’s my job as her coach to get her to where she wants to be. I believe when she starts to display her form that’s when the Gold medals will come in,” said Ong.
Team Singapore’s women’s bowling team were hauled into an “emergency” meeting with chef-de-mission Jessie Phua on Friday, following the Women’s Doubles competition in which they did not win a medal. The performance was, in truth, far from a disaster. But when you are talking about the same bunch of bowlers who had in the last Games swept Gold, Silver and Bronze, high expectations are inevitable – and especially so when Ong, a former world champion bowler who won three Gold medals at the 2002 Asian Games, is at the helm.
When asked about what truly transpired during that meeting, Ong was forthcoming. He said he simply needed to remind the bowlers of the sort of hardship he had put them through - a gruelling peaking programme that spanned six hours a day, five days a week – and that all the effort must not go down the drain.
“That meeting was to give them a wakeup call. It was about asking them if it was worth it that they put in all that sweat and tears only to chicken out on competition day. We’re here to take our chances, not just sit around and see what happens,” he said.
Ong speaks with an infectious conviction about the earlier mentioned “bigger picture”, suggesting he is ready to leave the frontlines and take the lead. It is the kind of talk you would expect to hear from a general who is about to lead his troops into battle. And like a true patriot on this sporting battlefield, Ong has no qualms about acceding to the higher calling.
He said: “Being put in this role as head coach, I believe that my president sees something and believes in me. Yes, it is a sacrifice for me to be in this position and not be able to compete, but this is a selfishness that I will get past.”
Early signs indicate that this belief in him is not misplaced. Team Singapore fielded eight new bowlers to compete in this edition of the Asiad, and among them are Keith Saw, Ng Chiew Pang and Lim Chia Loong - the trio finished fourth in the Men’s Trios competition, a mere 14 pinfalls behind third-placed South Korea.
And that’s not bad at all for an Asian Games debut.