Wed March 22
Ryan Bester (Hanover, ON) and Mark Sandford (Toronto, ON) tuned up for the Commonwealth Games by playing in Australia's premier lawn bowls league for the past 2 ½ months.
The Canadians joined Sydney's The Hills District Bowling Club, which plays in the New South Wales (NSW) Premier League, in January. Joining the league gave Bester, 21, and Sandford, 42, a chance to bowl with Australia's best during the off-season in Canada.
“It's the best league in the world,” says Sandford, who took a leave of absence from his job as a teacher's assistant to come to Australia. “It's been a great lead up to the Games. You get to throw a lot of bowls. The pressure of playing in the league has also been really good.”
Bester says athletes from other countries such as England and Scotland also geared up for the Games by playing in the NSW Premier League.
“The experience is just going to make us better just because the competition is so much greater here,” he said. “In Canada, there are something like 17,000 bowlers whereas here, there are about 350,000.”
Bester, the reigning World Pairs Champion with fellow national team member Keith Roney (Regina, SK), is competing in Men's Singles at the Games. Sandford is lead in Men's Triples with Steve McKerihen (Toronto, ON) and Chris Stadnyk (Niagara Falls, ON).
Bester will remain in Melbourne after the Games to compete in the 2006 Australian Open from April 3 to 8. He'll compete in Men's Singles in the tournament, which carries $100,000 Australian ($84,300 Canadian) in total prize money.
Bester and Sandford will rejoin their Sydney team in time for the end of the regular season and will also see action in the league playoffs. The Canadians will return home in May to begin their regular lawn bowls season in Canada.