Four years ago, lawn bowler Ryan Bester won Canada's first silver medal in men's singles at the Commonwealth Games since 1934.
The 33-year-old looks to go one better at the Gold Coast Games, where he will hold home-field advantage in Canada's quest for a first-ever gold in the sport. While a native of Hanover, Ont., Bester has made Australia his home and he's the bowls manager at Broadbeach Bowls Club, which is hosting the Commonwealth Games competition.
"It's a big advantage," said Bester. "Obviously the greens are different in each country. And Australia, they claim the best greens in the world because of the weather. They're a bit quicker than the northern hemisphere."
Plus Bester gets to compete year-round and all the time he needs to train. He plays against international-calibre opposition every Saturday in the Premier League and has won an impressive string of tournaments in Australia.
The Gold Coast is a hotbed for lawn bowls, helped by the fact that many clubs also feature slot machines. Bester's club has 48 such machines plus a full restaurant and bar in addition to top-notch facilities.
Bester's home club boasts 250 bowling members. And there are 22 other clubs on the Gold Coast.
The Commonwealth Games rank up there with the world championships in lawn bowls. Bester has lost in three straight finals to a bowler from the host country — New Zealand's Shannon McIlroy at the 2016 World Outdoor Bowls Championship in Christchurch, Scotland's Darren Burnett at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and Australia's Leif Selby at the 2012 worlds in Adelaide.
India's lawn bowls team has been practising in the Gold coast area the last two months. Australia, Malaysia, Malta and New Zealand have all held pre-Games camps there.
These will be Bester's fifth Commonwealth Games. He started in Manchester, England, at the age of 17 back in 2002, and became the first Canadian to win a world title when he took home the pairs crown with Keith Roney two years later.
After finishing college, he spent four months playing for a club in Sydney before winning bronze at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. He went home but made the move permanent at the end of the year when he was offered a full-time job.
Other top international players have also made Australia home. Bester says they all get along — he is slated to play with the Australian singles representative at a tournament after the Games.
Bester is also playing pairs with Ryan Stadnyk, of Niagara Falls, Ont., at the Gold Coast Games. Stadnyk will also be part of Canada's men's fours team.
Unfazed by the big stage, Bester is a chill customer.
"I don't get too nervous or anything, anymore," he said. "It's just another game. Just go out and enjoy it and try to play good."
Bester's parents will be on hand to watch the Games. Lawn bowls is a family affair — Bester's uncle and grandfather played and Bester started playing at age 10. Ryan won the Canadian fours title with his father and two older brothers. He also won two Canadian pairs crowns with his dad.
The other members of the Canadian team are Kelly McKerihen of Toronto (women's singles, pairs), Leanne Chinery of Victoria (women's pairs, fours), Joanna Cooper of Calgary (women's triples, fours), Jacqueline Foster of Bridgetown, N.S. (women's triples, fours), Pricilla Westlake of Delta, B.C. (women's triples, fours), Cameron LeFresne of Enfield, N.S. (men's triples, fours), Chris Stadnyk of Niagara Falls, Ont. (men's triples, fours) and Greg Wilson of Cochrane, Alta. (men's triples, fours).
Westlake also has experience on the Broadbeach greens, having won the 2017 World Youth Championships there.
And McKerihen moved to Australia in late 2015 to take advantage of the weather and get more playing time. She is based out of the Clayton Bowls Club in Melbourne.
The team is coached by Darryl Fitzgerald of Kitchener, Ont.
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