After their record-breaking campaign at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, the Bowls Australia Jackaroos have now set their sights on beating the English on home soil.
Australian bowlers will have their sights set on breaking a Commonwealth Games gold medal drought on UK soil when the Games return to English soil next year.
In the six Games held in the United Kingdom, Australian bowlers are yet to win a gold medal but three-time Commonwealth Games medallist Barrie Lester is hoping to be one to breakthrough at Birmingham.
The opportunity to compete at the upcoming Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will be one of the biggest highlights of his career and Lester is taking his preparation to the next level by practicing at his local croquet club to help acclimatise to the slower English greens.
“I have played in two Commonwealth Games, they have both been here in Australia and my good friend and boxer Jason Whateley said when he made the Rio 2016 Olympics team, it was amazing to be able to travel with the Australian team and go overseas,” Lester said on Commonwealth Games Australia’s ‘300 Days to Go Show’.
“So for me being able to experience the Commonwealth Games overseas and compete as part of the Australian team and take in the whole landscape and culture in the United Kingdom… I’m really looking forward to that.”
Debuting at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games as a 24-year-old, Lester paired with then 27-year-old Nathan Rice to win bronze in the men’s pair event.
The young duo’s performance at the Melbourne Games were part of the Australia’s team best-ever performance at a Commonwealth Games to date, where the Jackaroos finished with three gold, a silver and a bronze, and ushered in a changing of the guard in Australian bowls.
Given his young age Lester was on track to become a staple in the Australian side for the years to come, but after not being in contention for the Delhi 2010 Games, he narrowly missed out on selection for the Glasgow 2014 Games.
In a game of millimetres, where the tiniest lapse of concentration can be costly, the competition to make the Australian squad is just as competitive as the Commonwealth Games themselves.
Lester’s drive and motivation to return to the elite stage had never been higher leading into the 2018 Games.
“Missing out on Glasgow was the start of it, I didn’t take a backward step… I saw it as an opportunity to spend the next 18 months setting goals and training hard,” Lester said ahead of the Gold Coast Games.
“I’m part of a high performance program and the feedback from the national coaches and selectors was that my form was good, that I was doing all the right things, it’s just that there were five players in there at the time who were a fraction ahead of me.
“So if I was going to make the top five I had to get better and I had 18 months to do it.’’
The hard work paid off with Lester earning his place for the Gold Coast team where he won silver medals as part of the men’s triples and men’s fours teams, adding to the record-breaking haul from the Jackaroos where the squad finished with five gold and two silver.
The Birmingham Games will be the next challenge for Lester and the rest of the Australian Jackaroos, with the squad mindful that competing in the United Kingdom has not been kind to Australian bowlers.
In the six Games held in the United Kingdom, Australian bowlers are yet to win a gold medal.
Australian bowlers won two silver at the Edinburgh 1986 Games, a lone silver at the Manchester 2002 Games, and the best total haul of a silver and three bronze at the Glasgow 2014 Games.
The venue for the Bowls competition at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will be a significant change of scenery from the Broadbeach venue at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Rather than being a mere five-minute walk from the golden sandy beaches of the Gold Coast where bowlers enjoyed competing with a salty sea breeze, the venue for the Birmingham Games is deep in the English countryside in a town famed for the reputed medicinal qualities of its water and an average summer high of just 20 degrees.
The greens at Royal Leamington Spa are going to test the talents of the Jackaroos, but Lester is doing everything he can to prepare himself for the challenge.
“You hear Leamington Spa, and you think wow, you know, will we play bowls and then literally lay in a spa but it’s not like that at all… it’s quite extreme,” Lester said.
“[The greens] are very foreign to what we play on day to day here in Australia.
“With the conditions over there, we are expecting to play in the rain, out in the cold and play on surfaces we aren’t accustomed to here in Australia.
“So currently I’ve joined the local Burleigh Heads Palm Beach croquet club in which they’ve allowed me to roll my balls on the croquet greens which are somewhere near the pace or style of grass that we expect them to get over there.”
The Lawn Bowls competition at the Birmingham Games will see 11 gold medals on offer, including the debut of mixed pairs in the Para-Lawn Bowls B2-3 discipline, with Lester and the rest of the Jackaroos looking to break the United Kingdom hoodoo.
Next year’s Commonwealth Games will make global sport history by being the first-ever major multi-sport event to award more medals to women than men. There will be 136 medal events for women and 134 for men; at the 2018 Commonwealth Games there were an equal number of medals for women and men.
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To be in the stands in Birmingham supporting the Jackaroos and the rest of the Australian team, for the first time Australian families and fans will be able to access group tickets for all events at the Commonwealth Games.
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Tour packages are available for all sports; however, numbers are limited.
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