Lester is Australia’s number one Barrie Lester is Australia’s number one lawn bowler.The Lakes Entrance Bowls Club product has rocketed to the top of Australia’s rankings list a month out from the Bowls Australia’s most prestigious event – the Australian Open. Lester has been on a tear, winning two state singles titles last weekend before backing up this weekend in a winning test match series against Eng-land at Broadbeach Bowls Club on the Gold Coast, where he earned his 100th Australian cap. It has been a tremendous couple of weeks for the now Mulgrave Bowling Club coach and he isn’t stopping yet. Yesterday, Lester was named as part of Australia’s five-man squad to take on New Zealand in a Trans Tasman battle on the Gold Coast at the end of the month – a significant steppingstone in 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games selection, which is Lester’s ultimate goal.

“A couple of years ago I sat down with the Mrs and just said ‘look, either we have a really good crack at it now or maybe step away on concentrate on local stuff, so I sort of bit the bullet a couple of years ago and started flying up to Queensland every weekend to play, a few extra miles,” Lester said “That created some extra form and extra opportunities for results and bang, here we are. “It’s been a good couple of years, but I’ve got to hold on now, the Commonwealth Games team looks as though it will be picked around November, that’s what everything revolves around at the moment. ”It’s been a gruelling bowling period for Lester however he is starting to reap the rewards of the endless hours of travel, training and competition. “I missed Commonwealth Games 2014 and that was when I had that decision of ‘what do you do, is it not meant to be or do you pick yourself up and go again”, and that’s what I did.

   “After missing Commonwealth Games 2014, I said ‘maybe I‘ve got to do a few things differently, maybe play a few more things that will help benefit my game’. “I took on more in 2015/16 and that got me into world championships last year. “It’s all based around commitment levels, really. Knowing your goals as well and always looking six months ahead of what your goals are and what you need to achieve. “That has basically got me to where I have  got.” That included selection in the 2016 Australia five-man world championship team. Lester proved himself at the top level yet again, claiming silver medals in the fours and triples. “In terms of lawn bowls, it’s hard to differentiate what the pinnacle of the sport is between world championships and Comm Games,” Lester said. “If you ask a professional swimmer they  will say the world championships comes before anything else, then the Olympics etc., but in bowls its definitely world championships and Commonwealth Games. “I got two silver in world championships in December over in New Zealand, very close to getting a gold. “But this year sort of turned the page on that one and started focusing on results for this year and Commonwealth Games.

“As of today (Monday), I’ve got to Australia number one off the back of the past three or four months getting some really good results.” While the first third of the year has been exceptional for Lester, the past month is what has elevated him to the top of Australia’s rankings, even if it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. “I think this year I’ve accumulated over 200 ranking points, and that is pretty big. Bendigo alone, when I won the two state championships, that was 130 ranking points,” he said. “I’ll stay number one, officially, even though things will move  around this month, like people will go from 15 to 13 and five  to three, but they (Bowls  Australia) don’t actually publicise it until the end of the month, it’s not live  rankings. “As it sits now,  when you look at the 17th ranking (April 1), on  April 2 I finished an event and got second, which got me 48 points,  Adelaide Masters a couple of weeks ago I got another 10 points, and then with 130, pretty much gives me 200 points since the start of  April. “I think state championships I put down I wanted to make  top two of each discipline, I’ve  won each, whereas  Adelaide I wanted to make  the last four and only made last 16, Richmond Union I got runner-up there and my goal was to make  top two, so you can tick some boxes and some you can’t, but overall I’m very happy with my form this year. It was Lester’s  second state singles title, the first coming 11 years ago in 2006, while it was his first champion of champions singles state title victory.

   And while Commonwealth Games is at the top of Lester’s agenda, the world champion of champions singles title is in the back of his mind. “The champion of champions evolves from being your club champion then onto your zone or region champion, which there are 16 zones in  Victoria, and then those 16 winners come together over two days. I had to win 14 games to win that. “The state singles, win your zone, which is open, you have to win seven games and then play another four. “I think I had to win about 28 games over the two disciplines without a loss, because it’s all knockout. “I think in the history of Bowls  Victoria maybe only three people have won those two titles in the one year. “The champion of champion now goes onto Australian champion of champions and the winner goes onto the world champion of champions. “I’m chasing the world title in that one that is the goal, the focus.” Singles events have not always been Lester’s  forte.  A quality bowler in any discipline, Lester’s  best results on the international stage are varied between fours, triples and pairs, including the 2006 Commonwealth Games pairs bronze medal.

However with competition for Commonwealth Games selection heating up, Lester’s effort and commitment in the singles format cannot be faulted. “That I’m aware of, no one outside of Queensland has flown up to Queensland, whether they  be from South  Australia or New South  Wales, to play the winter pennant, which is an eight-week comp, July to  August. “I decided to support myself in doing that in 2015 and came back last year and did it. For those eight weeks you keep your hand in playing a good level of competition, good greens, instead of staying back home for a good just knowing your goals and knowing what you want to achieve to keep getting up for it.

” And Lester already has a foot in the selection door following last year’s world championships. “We got the best performed Australian team at any world championships overseas, so that was a pretty good feeling,” he said. “To get picked in that five was one thing and then to get two silvers was great – just to get to the pointy end of some of those events is really good. Barrie Lester with his two state title medals. couple of months and not playing much over the winter months. “Other than a few indoor comps, Victoria pretty much between May and September closes down, so you have  limited opportunities in terms of competition, but you can still do a bit of training. “A lot of commitment in terms of travel, you’re unpacking, packing your bag all the time. It’s not uncommon now every couple of weeks to be away for a week for an event or something like that. “If you want to be considered or want to put yourself in a position of elite level athletes or sportspeople do, that comes with the territory.

“Being a selection year for Commonwealth Games, the opportunities were there in terms of singles events, and I just thought I probably need to step up a little bit in singles results. “It shows you’ve  definitely got to be in form, but I think it shows a mental resilience, because singles you are by yourself, you against the other opponent, not feeding off your teammates and can be a bit of a lonely game. “So to win those eight games in a couple of days up at Bendigo was just mental resilience, getting up for every bowl, every end, every game and just proving you’re strong in that department and can fight off the ups and downs that present themselves. “That’s a part of the game I’ve had to improve in over the years. In golfing terms, you might be playing well but you’re only one bad shot off a double bogey, and then how you react, how do you bounce back and try and birdie the next hole. “In bowls you can have a bad game. Lose, then how do you come back the next day or next week? For me it’s “I was confident that I’d played pretty well at those championships, which then they see ‘we’ve given him a run at the highest level and he’s stood up’ so moving forward that helps your chances.” While chasing his bowling dreams, Lester is never one to forget his roots. Lakes Entrance Bowls Club gave him his start and he is forever grateful. “I’ve been getting back to Lakes a little bit, whenever I can. I spoke to Graeme  Armstrong when I played my 100th test match last Friday against England, just text him and said ‘thanks very much for your support over the years’. He’s been a bloody great supporter of me. “I always flick out an email to the Lakes Bowls Club back home, just little things like ‘I’ve  done this, won that, I’m forever indebted to you guys for what you guys did to me off the ground’.

“My other love  and goal at the moment is getting out to schools and doing talks and giving kids an education on what bowls is, you know,  the kid from a country town who had some goals, had some dreams, aspirations, an up and down journey to get there. “I’ve been getting out to a few schools and those opportunities are really good.” In recent years, lawn bowling in Australia has taken a more professional route, confiding in the Australian Institute of Sport for elite guidance. “We’re sponsored by the  AIS, so we’ve  got to do weekly monitoring reports with minimum numbers of exercise, gym, fitness, skill testing, so it’s all pretty full on. “I guess people from the outside looking in wouldn’t see what we have to do to be at the level we are because the commitment is there. “It’s probably been the last four years the program has been weekly monitoring, monthly reporting, per week three fitness sessions and then we are working with sports psych’s, on-green training, and that all benefits us to be better.” The next phase of Lester’s Commonwealth Games selection bid starts with the Trans Tasman battle. “That is a benchmark event.  You’ve got Commonwealth Games, world championships, and the two levels down would be the  Asia Pacific’s and  Trans Tasman’s, they’re the feeder events you’ve  got to get picked in and play well to get up to world championships and Commonwealth Games level,” he said. “We’ve  got a big run of events Trans  Tasman’s is May 29 to June 2, then June 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 we play multi nations against eight countries and then the  Australian Open starts June 10, so I’m actually on the Gold Coast pretty much for a month playing. “They are all benchmark events and I’ve got to play well.” From there it is full steam ahead. “July will be Queensland pennant, with more focus on individual training, not so event specific, but more strength and conditioning and getting the body right. “There will be a camp in there where we have  testing and then, because of the recent state titles, they  go onto national championships, so I go to Darwin in October for the national champion of champions, and the national titles is in Merimbula in November.

“Merimbula have just put in a two green covered roof indoor facility, a state-of-the-art complex  and they  are hosting the  Australian Championships for the next three years. “It’s good for me to get down that way and I might get a bit of local support, people driving down from Lakes or Gippsland way to support and come and watch the Australian championships.” Lester is hopeful of returning to his home club later in the year to help spark the next Australian bowler from his home town. “I’ll be back in Lakes later in the year and we’re going to do a junior camp on the school holidays, we’ll put in flyers to the schools get a few kids along to learn bowls. “If I can inspire anyone else to take up the sport or any young locals from the area, that’s what I’m really keen on doing, trying to provide some sort of legacy in the Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance and Orbost areas that there are good opportunities for anyone that wants to take  up the game. “I’d love to see more people take  up the sport.”