THEY were the least fancied of the three Malaysian womens pairs but Zatil Iman Abdul Ghani and Esther Cheah rose to the occasion to strike the first gold medal for Malaysia in the bowling competition of the 24th SEA Games at the SF Strike Bowl in Bangkok yesterday.
Although Zatil is playing in the Games for the first time while Esther is back in the team for the first time in three months, they combined well to fend off a late charge from Thailand to take the doubles gold medal with a total of 2,438.
Malaysia also bagged a bronze medal through the senior-junior combination of Shalin Zulkifli-Siti Safiyah Amirah Abdul Rahman, who recovered from poor starts to finish on 2,348.
The third Malaysian pair of Zandra Aziela Ibrahim Hakimi and Sharon Koh finish fifth with a score of 2,282.
The day certainly belonged to 18-year-old Zatil, who was only named in the squad after winning her first senior Open title in Singapore just two months ago.
There were fears that Zatil will crumble under pressure just as she did during the singles event a day ago but she hung on well yesterday.
“I was actually nervous in the final game. The situation was so tense. Esther and I were bowling alongside the Thais and they were enjoying tremendous support,” said Zatil.
“But for me the loudest cheers I heard were from my team-mates. They kept me going and I bowled the best I could. I now have my first gold medal in my first SEA Games. This is just amazing.”
Zatil hopes to take her strong showing into the trios event today.
Zatil certainly complemented well with Esther even though they were teaming up for the very first time. She had lines of 190-209-197-205-203-196 and kept pace with Esther, who had an inconsistent six-game series of 199-247-214-184-189-205.
Team manager Cheah Ban Cheng was pleased that Malaysia finally came good after missing out on the gold medals in the singles.
“Today, the women proved their class. At one point, our hopes of winning the gold was threatened but they played with determination, he said.
“After struggling on the first day, Esther certainly showed that she is made off sterner stuff. This win today will certainly motivate the others to achieve more glory for the country.”
Malaysia settled for a bronze in the men's doubles through Zulmazran Zulkifli-Aaron Kong in a competition where the Thais had a 1-2 finish.
The duo scored a total of 2,464 to finish behind Phoemphum Yakasem-Annop Aromsaranon (2,521) and Somjed Kusonpithak-Yannaphon Larpapharat (2,503).