Ellen Ryan and Kristina Krstic celebrate winning Commonwealth Gold. Credit: Bowls Australia

Bowls is the Best Sport in the Country, and Now we Have Proof

by Billy Johnson

Eighteen Australian lawn bowlers will return from the Birmingham Commonwealth Games with a collective three gold and three silver medals. It’s a record haul for the Aussies who had previously never won lawn bowls gold in the UK, and has undoubtedly cemented Australia’s position as the best bowling nation in the world.

There’s a lot to be said about the success of the Australian squad, but their greatest achievement over the last fortnight won’t be found within medal tallies or seen on the podium. Whether they know it or not, these athletes have put lawn bowls in the media spotlight and to the attention of the sporting world, breaking down long-established stereotypes along the way.

Those of us who play bowls know all too well the standard tropes tagged to our sport, particularly the phrase “bowls is just for old people”.  Whether uttered in conversation or seen in well-meaning advertisements, this perception has stuck to the sport like grippo to a bowl and is enough to make our collective eyes roll. For so long, bowls has tried to showcase itself as a fun, competitive sport for people of all ages.

Now we have proof.

I’d like to introduce you to Kristina Krstic and Ellen Ryan, two young players hailing from opposite ends of Australia. Through bowls they became best mates, and the two are now Commonwealth Games gold medallists. Both debutants, 28-year-old Krstic and 25-year-old Ryan took on England in an all-time classic final that came down to the final bowl. Ryan’s forehand runner sealed the win, peeling off England’s closest bowl and leaving Australia holding shot. The crowd erupted as they watched Ryan and Krstic embrace in the middle of the green, both brought to tears by the occasion.

You would be hard-pressed to find a more emotionally charged moment from the Commonwealth Games, all of which took place within the confines of a bowling green.

Then there’s Aaron Wilson. You may be forgiven for not having heard of ‘Disco’ as he’s affectionately known, but in the bowling world the man is a living legend. Equal parts charismatic and enigmatic, Disco has reached astronomical heights, winning back-to-back Commonwealth Games gold medals with no signs of slowing down. His skill on the green is matched only by his celebrations, the most recent of which included him ripping his shirt off and jumping into the stands.

Some call his antics outrageous, others even over-the-top. I see him as refreshing, a character who has reached the pinnacle of our sport, and had fun while doing so. Whether you like it or not, he’s exactly what our sport needs.

See, when it comes down to it, what Disco, Ellen, Kristina and all the Australian Jackaroos have done is show the world how bowls is a sport for all people. All ages, all abilities, all encompassing. Bowls doesn’t discriminate, it unites people from all walks of life, and isn’t that really what sport is all about?

If you’re reading this and you’ve never played bowls before, I’m going to ask you to do me a favour. Find your local bowlo and pay it a visit. If you can, grab some bowls and have a roll up on the greens. Meet the people, enjoy the facilities and take it all in. You might even sign up as a social member, complete with bar and bistro discounts of course.

This is exactly how our eighteen Australian Jackaroos started out, and while I can’t guarantee that you’ll eventually play for Australia, I’m certain you’ll enjoy playing the game just as much as they do.

Written by Billy Johnson – All opinions are my own.