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Victoria's Chinery leads the way for Canada in Commonwealth Games lawn bowling

Lawn bowling is the curling of the Commonwealth Games
Leanne Chinery is competing in her fourth Commonwealth Games. TIMES COLONIST

BIRMINGHAM, England — Lawn bowling is the curling of the Commonwealth. Other than cricket, it’s hard to imagine a more quintessentially Commonwealth sport. The likes of three-on-three basketball, rugby sevens and beach volleyball are in the 2022 Commonwealth Games to give them more of a hipster vibe. But the pastoral and proper sport of bowls endures as a counterpoint and a venerable staple of the Games here at the aptly-named Victoria Park in the picturesque town of Royal Leamington Spa, as it did at Juan de Fuca in the 1994 Victoria Games.

“This is our Olympics. It’s the pinnacle,” said lawn bowling star Leanne Chinery of Victoria, who is competing in her fourth Commonwealth Games.

Chinery, among more than 50 Island or Island-based athletes competing in the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games for Canada, is a product of the Juan de Fuca facility and played there after starting the sport at the Burnside Lawn Bowling Club.

She was only 12 at the time, and not yet a lawn bowler, but she vividly recalls the 1994 Commonwealth Games: “What an amazing atmosphere that was for our city.”

Little did she know then that one of the Games’ core sports would play such a big part in her life.

“When lawn bowling was first suggested to me, I thought: ‘No way, that’s for old people,’ ” she said.

“But I tried it and the coach at the Burnside club, Craig Wilson, was amazing and taught me so much.”

Her choice of sport, lawn bowling at age 14, was destined to cause many quizzical conversations growing up in Canada, despite that nobody here thinks anything of a youth curler, which would be a pretty odd thing in Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Kenya or India.

“I was never the cool kid in high school [at Reynolds Secondary] and being a lawn bowler certainly didn’t help that,” Chinery said with a laugh. But it got her places where the sport is big, now as a resident of Wollongong, Australia, where she bowls and is a registered nurse. “Bowls is a high-profile sport in Australia, much like curling in Canada, and it’s the place to be,” said Chinery, 40, who graduated in nursing from the University of Victoria.

Chinery came close at the last Commonwealth Games, making the bronze-medal final, before placing fourth with the Canadian women’s fours. Her quest at the 2022 Games in Birmingham continues through the week.

“It’s an honour and privilege to wear the Maple Leaf and it almost makes me cry every time I put on the national team jersey. I get goose bumps and tingles every time. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be doing this,” she said.

AT THE GAMES: The Canadian women’s field hockey team can follow in the cleat steps of the Langford-based women’s rugby sevens team by making the Games semifinals with a win today in the final round-robin game against India. On the Canadian team are Maddie Secco, Anna Mollenhauer and Lexi De Armond of Victoria, and Sara Goodman from Duncan.

Nicholas Bennett of Parksville, who won two silver medals this summer in the world Para swimming championships in Portugal, goes for the podium today in Birmingham. The Commonwealth Games are the first major multi-sport Games to fully integrate Para sports into the main program with the medals counting equally in the table.

The overall Canadian highlights Tuesday were the national sides sweeping to four medals in men’s and women’s able-bodied and Para wheelchair three-on-three basketball, with Kady Dandeneau of Pender Island leading the wheelchair women’s team to gold. That was matched by gold for the women’s able-bodied squad and men’s wheelchair team while the men’s able-bodied team captured bronze.

Maya Laylor won the gold medal in women’s 76-kilo weightlifting and swimmer Josh Liendo the gold medal in the men’s 100-metre butterfly. The latter follows Liendo’s three medals at the recent FINA world aquatics championships in Budapest.

He called it during the Canadian trials at Saanich Commonwealth Place in spring, when he broke his own Canadian record in the 100 fly and was asked if the Canadian men were finally ready to match the women’s torrid success in the pool over the past two Olympics: “It’s been building and we have been patient. We’re coming,” Liendo told the Times Colonist. True to his word, he has clearly now arrived.

Australia leads the medals parade with 106 total followed by host England’s 86 and Canada’s 46. In the gold standard, which most of the world goes by, Canada is fourth with 11 gold medals behind Australia’s 42, England’s 31 and New Zealand’s 13.