Thursday, 7 January 2010

Willie Wood hungry for Commonwealth Games and more..

While many may be running scared of the Commonwealth Games but Willie Wood, 71 is feeling 30 years younger. He will be straining every sinew over the coming days, and - he hopes - weeks, at the World Indoor Championships in an effort to secure his place in the Scotland team for Delhi.

If selected it will be his eighth Commonwealth Games. While the rest of the shivering country huddles around stoked fires for comfort, Wood will be strutting his stuff at the Potters Leisure centre at Hopton-on-Sea on the freezing Norfolk coast where the bowls clans have gathered for their annual get-together.

A unique sporting occasion this, with players, officials and fans all staying in some comfort on site, moving seamlessly from their comfortable chalets to the lively bars, sumptuous restaurants and the enticing Palms Health Spa and to the splendid indoor bowls complex. And then back via the same route at the end of the day. Bowls utopia.

The presence of Wood, who starts his singles campaign on Thursday morning against South Africa's Theuns Fraser, will certainly add a little spice to proceedings. Wood was elected to the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, which is usually a pretty surefire sign that people are thinking of you, or at least your competitive career, in the past tense.

Wood, who first represented Scotland at bowls in 1966, begs to differ and has come through seven tough qualifying rounds to take his place. He also rose at 3am to dig his way out of the snow at his Edinburgh home to make the car journey through the snowy wastes of the Borders to arrive early and start practising.

This is a man on a mission, a Saga pin-up in a sport that is increasingly becoming a young man's game as it seeks to shed its former image.

Already he has made it into Scotland's final Commonwealth Games selection squad of seven, from whom just one of those will be cut at the end of the month. Woods is determined to be on the plane to India in October. A useful showing at Hopton-on-Sea would just about clinch the issue.

After the heroics of Tom Watson at the Open in July we should not be surprised at anything our more senior sportsmen achieve. The golf-loving Wood certainly drew inspiration from Turnberry.

As for the Commonwealth Games, Wood is undeterred by talk of terrorist threats: "I would have no hesitation going to Delhi. You can find yourself in bother anywhere in the world these days, why single Delhi out? You wouldn't say London is the safest of places either, would you? Whatever will be, will be."

Wood started his Commonwealth Games career in Christchurch in 1974 and went on to Edmonton and Brisbane before a dispute with the Scottish Bowls Association, which ruled him a professional, prevented him playing in Edinburgh in 1986.

He was back in the fold for Auckland in 1990, Victoria four years later, Kuala Lumpur in 1998 and, for his final appearance thus far, Manchester in 2002. One singles gold medal and gold in the fours were the pinnacles of his achievement, while during that time he also finished runner-up in the world championships twice and helped Scotland to three triples gold medals.

There was controversy again in 2006 when he was selected for Melbourne but withdrew insisting that the greens were not up to scratch. There is a strong perfectionist trait within him.

"I love it indoors these days, not just because it is warmer and more comfortable, but because you get a true run of the bowl," he said. "Outdoors these days the condition of the greens is getting poorer and poorer, the standard of horticulture deteriorating.

"I don't really think of being 71 you know. I have never stopped playing since I took the game up as boy. I was brought up in a small village and the bowls club was the only thing to do. All my family before me were good players, it was in the blood.

"I don't do anything special to keep fit, I just keep playing I was playing for 10 hours the other day. I've had a bit of knee trouble recently but some acupuncture seems to have sorted that out. As it happens I'm playing very well just now, very happy with my game. I don't really notice much difference from years ago. I might need reading glasses away from the greens but I don't use glasses when I'm playing, I still trust my eyes.

"What have I learnt over the years? That bowls may look relaxed and therapeutic but it can be as frustrating as any game I know. There is a lot of skill involved and over a long period skilful players will prevail, but there's also a fair bit of luck.

Sometimes you are not rewarded enough for good play, sometimes you can profit too much from a lucky shot. You have to come to terms with that, it's part of the game."


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