World Bowls Countdown – episode six
DRJ’s 1996-2000 memories
There’s now only a few days to go before the 14th World Bowls Championships get underway on the Gold Coast from August 29 – September 10.
David Rhys Jones, who has been taking us on a nostalgic tour through the decades, turns the spotlight on 1996 and 2000, and recalls how the men got on in Adelaide and Johannesburg, and the women fared in Leamington and Moama
1996 – ADELAIDE AND LEAMINGTON
In Adelaide in 1996, the theme was exploding bowls, and the men’s eighth World Bowls got off to a dramatic if rather noisy start at the Lockleys club. A giant bowl was spectacularly blown open at the opening ceremony as the organisers did their best to portray our sport as a passable substitute for the F1 Grand Prix, which Adelaide had unceremoniously lost to Melbourne.
The local paper – The Advertiser – ran a story comparing lawn bowls with motor racing, and came to the groundbreaking conclusion that bowls travelled at a slower speed than racing cars, and made less noise as they rolled up the rinks. I’m still not sure what point the writer was trying to make, but we were eternally grateful to him for pointing out these differences.
The women’s event – also their eighth World Bowls – was staged in Leamington’s Victoria Park, where I was proud to be the master of ceremonies. I tried my best to welcome players from each of the 31 different countries in their own native language. I’m not sure if I got it all right – but no-one actually complained about my pronunciation.
I also recall that the formalities at the opening ceremony – more than a thousand spectators gathered around the green, paying homage to more than 100 of the world’s best women bowlers – were hilariously interrupted when the local postman arrived to deliver the day’s mail to the EWBA HQ. Realising that he had cycled into the middle of a prestigious and dignified occasion, he merrily doffed his cap and gave us all a cheery wave, before discharging his duties, and leaving the arena.
With microphone in hand, I had to think on my feet – and, if I may say so, I was quite pleased with my off-the-cuff riposte! “Ladies and gentlemen,” I said, “we had intended asking Sir Rodney Walker, the chairman of the sports council, to roll the first wood of the championships, but the postman has already made the first delivery!”
ALLCOCK RETAINS THEMEN’S TITLE
Four years earlier, in 1992, Tony Allcock had proved a worthy successor to David Bryant, when he won the men’s world outdoor singles title in Worthing. Determined to retain the title down under, Allcock looked on his way out when he trailed Hong Kong’s Bandana Man Noel Kennedy, 14-24, in a group match that would decide who went through to the semi finals.
Hauling himself back to 24-24, he needed a sublime draw to the edge of the ditch with his last bowl to score the single that broke the deadlock, and went on to beat the host country’s Kelvin Kerkow, 25-21, in the semi-finals, and Israel’s Jeff Rabkin, 25-15, in the final. Rabkin put paid to the prospects of a repeat of the 1992 final, when he defeated Scotland’s Richard Corsie, 25-16, in the semis.
Allcock, who is now chairman of The Kennel Club, is still the only player who can claim to have successfully defended the men’s world outdoor singles title. Yes, that’s something that David Bryant never managed to do.
The event was a sensational triumph for the UK countries, who monopolised the gold medals. Allcock’s England team-mates David Cutler, Brett Morley, John Bell and Andy Thomson won the fours, Scotland’s Kenny Logan, Willie Wood and George Adrain took the triples title, and Jeremy Henry and Sammy Allen pocketed the pairs for Ireland. Scotland retained the Leonard Trophy.
With all the talk of home advantage, and north versus south rivalry, this was an unprecedented triumph for the northern hemisphere players, who showed an uncanny ability to adapt to the fast greens at Lockleys. Was it, we wondered, the phenomenal rise of indoor bowls in Britain that had enabled UK players to adapt so well?
Two of the finals were all-UK affairs; Scottish duo Richard Corsie and Alex Marshall just missed out on retaining their pairs title; and a feisty Welsh quartet – Chris Blake, Jason R Davies, Will Thomas and Robert Weale – gave best to England in the fours.
There were also bronze medals for 1992 silver medallist Corsie in the singles, and for Thomas and Weale in the pairs, while it’s worth mentioning that the Aussies had the consolation of being the only country to medal in all four disciplines – though they had to settle for a bronze hue in each case.
CARMEN BECOMES THEQUEEN OF HEARTS
The Queen of Hearts! That’s how the October 1996 edition of Bowls International described Carmelita ‘Carmen’ Anderson after she defeated England’s Wendy Line, 25-9, in the final of the women’s world outdoor singles championship in Royal Leamington Spa.
The 40-year-old Anderson, who was born in the Philippines, had bagged a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Canada two years before – but it still sent shock waves through the sport that a competitor from tiny Norfolk Island, which boasts only one bowls club, had won a world title.
Her success was well-deserved. However, if she won the admiration of the spectators for her bowling, she also captured hearts through her bubbly personality, her coquettish demeanour and her extensive, game-changing wardrobe. Yes, her eye-catching outfits broke the mould that many felt had held women’s bowls back for so long.
Make no mistake – these were the championships that changed the look of the women’s game forever. In the final, Anderson wore a slinky, figure-hugging number – I think it was a white, silk trouser-suit – that wowed the gallery, and contrasted sharply with Line’s regulation hat, hemline below-the-knee, tights and brown shoes as prescribed by the EWBA.
The previous evening many spectators had left Victoria Park in the belief that it would have been Joyce Lindores who would be facing Anderson in the final. Line and Lindores finished level on wins (points) at the top of their group, and the event computer proclaimed that it was the Scot who had the better ‘shots difference’.
When someone pointed out that, in the case of a tie on points, it should be shots aggregate (shots for divided by shots against), not shots difference (shots for minus shots against) that should decide the rank order, a new calculation was made, and it was Line who was given the place in the final.
To be frank, it was not a good year for the UK countries, with Ireland’s Phillis Nolan and Margaret Johnston, who retained the pairs title, claiming the northern hemisphere’s only gold medal. Anderson’s sensational victory brought gold to Norfolk Island, South Africa’s Jannie de Beer, Barbara Redshaw and Hester Bekker won the triples, and Aussie quartette Gordana Baric, Marilyn Peddell, Margaret Sumner and Daphne Shaw cleaned up in the fours.
Apart from Ireland’s pairs gold, England medalled in singles (that silver for Wendy Line), triples (bronze for Line, Jeannie Baker and Mary Price,) and fours (bronze for Norma Shaw, Baker, Gill Fitzgerald and Price), Wales bagged bronze in singles (Rita Jones) and triples (Ann Sutherland, Judith Wason and Betty Morgan), and Joyce Lindores collected a bronze medal for Scotland in the singles.
South Africa won the overall team title with gold in the triples, silver in the fours and bronze in the pairs, ahead of England, who managed one silver and two bronze.
2000 – MOAMA AND JOHANNESBURG
Following the jamboree at Leamington, it was announced that the 2000 WWB would be staged at Tweed Heads on Australia’s Gold Coast, but BA politics put a stop to that, and the event was actually held at Moama on the border of New South Wales and Victoria.
Moama proved to be a marvellous venue – but it is still a mystery as to why, even today in 2023, the impressive Tweed Heads club has still not been invited to host a global event.
Moama was a delightful venue. As competitors, officials and spectators walked through the gates of the club each morning, they were serenaded by the raucous laughter of a kookaburra. But the event will be remembered most vividly by an unprecedented incident in which a set of bowls was challenged at the group stage of the singles, and which provoked not laughter, but furrowed brows.
Ireland’s Margaret Johnston put the cat among the pigeons (or perhaps we should say the wombat among the kookaburras) when, after losing to Scotland’s Margaret Letham, she claimed that her opponent’s bowls, though properly stamped, were too straight.
Along with those of other competitors, Letham’s bowls were sent overnight to nearby Bendigo, where there was a Drake’s Pride testing table, for examination – and they all failed the test!
Letham, who was leading the race for a place in the final, was duly docked the points she had won against Johnston, and the Irish ace, who thus topped the table, went on to win the title for the second time. Note that there was no suggestion that Letham had knowingly used bowls that were technically illegal. And, although Johnston’s decision to challenge was unpopular in some circles, everyone had to admit that she was perfectly within her rights to mount a challenge.
Handily, Bendigo, where the nearest testing table was situated, was a mere 93 kilometres from Moama, but there were fears that, if a similar situation occurred at the men’s championship, which followed almost immediately in Johannesburg, all hell would break loose, because there was not a single testing table in the whole of South Africa.
Fortunately, there were no challenges to bowls in Marks Park in Jo’burg, where UK players won three of the fours title, with New Zealand claiming one.
Unlike the 1976 World Bowls in nearby Zoo Lake, where the host country won all four titles as well as the Leonard Trophy, South Africa had to settle for two silver medals.
The organisers made a big effort to impress, and the opening ceremony benefitted from dancing girls in grass skirts, noisy war drums, colourful ethnic costumes – and even a flypast from an ancient Spitfire. To add to the tension, there was even an armed robbery at the team hotel – thankfully while most of the players were at Marks Park.
Let me share with you a sad personal memory of the championships in South Africa.
I became friends with Barry Glasspool, oneof our press colleagues, and a reveredSouth African sports journo, who sat beside me for the first week, and entertained me with his verbal dexterity. I thoroughlyenjoyed his company. We all thought it strange when Barry failed to turn up this one particular morning.
Subsequently, we learnt that, on his way to Marks Park, he called in at his sports desk, where he collapsed and died. When the event was over, my wife Jill and I attended Barry’s funeral – and, on a more cheerful note, we also paid our first visit to the Kruger Park, where we were enthralled by the wildlife.
Until that successful challenge was lodged, talented Scot Margaret Letham was hotly-tipped to do the singles and pairs double. After winning the pairs with her fellow-Scot Joyce Lindores, Letham looked odds-on to add the singles title – but it was not to be.
Letham and Lindores defeated the host country’s Arrienne Wynen and a young, up-and-coming Aussie called Karen Murphy in the pairs final, which meant that, over an 18-months spell, the highly compatible Scottish duo had won the Atlantic, Commonwealth and world pairs titles.
Of course, it was Irish ace Margaret Johnston who controversially won the singles, beating Welsh hope Rita Jones, who looked the likely winner when she led, 11-3. Johnston sensationally countered, scoring 18 shots while conceding only three to return a 21-14 scorecard. Jones promptly announced her retirement from international bowls.
Australians, though pleased with their haul of four medals, were disappointed to settle for one silver and three bronze – but New Zealand came up trumps, Patsy Jorgensen, Sharon Sims and Anne Lomas beating England’s Kath Hawes, Norma May (subbing for the indisposed Jill Polley) and Norma Shaw in the triples final, and, after being joined by Jan Khan at lead, accounting for Scotland’s Julie Forrest, Betty Forsyth, Sarah Gourlay and Joyce Lindores in the fours final.
I don’t quite understand how they did so, but England, who did not win a gold medal, won the Taylor Trophy, awarded to the best-performing country. You might have thought that Australia’s tally of one silver and three bronze medals would trump England’s one silver, one bronze, one fifth place and one sixth place. However, England somehow recorded 111 points against Australia’s 110.
JOY FOR JEZZA IN JO’BURG
Jeremy ‘Jezza’ Henry, who has since become a key figure in Australian bowls, recorded perhaps his greatest achievement when he defeated Australia’s Steve Glasson, 21-14, in the final, and won the singles for Ireland. Having won the pairs with Sammy Allen in 1996, he was now, at 26, the proud holder of two world titles.
Scots duo George Sneddon and Alex Marshall won the pairs, beating South Africa’s Shaun Addinall and Gerry Baker, 24-14, in the final, while Welsh quartet of Mark Williams, Steve Rees, Robert Weale and Will Thomas defeated Addinall, Bruce Makkink, Bobby Donnelly and Neil Burkett, 21-12, in the fours final.
The northern hemisphere thus provided only three of the eight finalists across the four events, but finished with three golds. New Zealand’s Rowan Brassey, Andrew Curtain and Peter Belliss struck gold in the triples, beating Aussies Adam Jeffery, Steve Glasson and Rex Johnston, 23-13, in the final.
The four UK countries brought seven medals home between them.
Scotland won one gold and two bronze, Ireland one gold and one bronze, and Wales one gold, while England’s only medal – a singles bronze –came from the legendary Tony Allcock, who had been hoping to win the singles title for the third time in succession.
The Scots thought they had won the Leonard Trophy, but their celebrations came to an abrupt end when the World Bowls computer showed that they had been pipped at the post by the Aussies, who, curiously won the team title without having garnered gold in any of the four disciplines. Their two silvers and one bronze apparently trumped Scotland’s one gold and two bronze.
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