Fri, Dec 08, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Asian Games: Billiards pro swaps Middlesbrough for tropical Singapore

AP , DOHA

Towering above his opponents with a head of sandy brown hair, there's no mistaking Peter Gilchrist on the floor of the cue sports event at the Asian Games.

Two-time billiards world champion Gilchrist, who is 1.93m tall, switched the bleak northern English city of Middlesbrough for tropical southeast Asia three years ago and took Singaporean citizenship this year.

Now he's representing his adopted country in English Billiards at the Asian Games.

English Billiards, generally played on a large 3.66m-by-1.83m table, uses just three balls -- a plain white, a white with a spot, and a red. Players score points by pocketing balls and can continue shooting until a shot, or pocket, is missed.

Gilchrist started playing the sport at the age of 12, when he sought refuge from a snowed-out soccer match in a local snooker club.

"I was just hooked on it from then on," he said in an interview on Wednesday.

As fascination turned to obsession, Gilchrist's made the most of his father's job as a firefighter and the billiards table at the station.

"I could leave school at four o'clock and be down at the fire station at 4:30. So from 4:30 to eight o'clock, dad told all the other firemen they couldn't use the table so I could practice," he said.

Gilchrist won his first English Amateur Championship in 1987, aged 19, and turned professional two years later.

No stranger to Asia, much of Gilchrist's early professional career was spent regularly traveling to the billiards hotbed of India for its lucrative tournaments.

"Billiards was huge over there when I first turned professional with big tobacco sponsorships," he said. "Once the tobacco companies were banned from sponsoring sport, billiards waned a little bit and I had to find a new career."

A certified coach, Gilchrist found himself in demand in emerging billiards markets like Canada, Thailand and Qatar, before being invited to steer the Singapore national team in 2003.

Gilchrist said he wasn't taken with Singapore on his only previous visit in 2000.

"I was only there four days and my girlfriend at the time was sick ... I didn't particularly like the place," he said. "Now I just think it's the best place in the world."

Gilchrist regularly travels to visit friends and family in England, but says he can't imagine returning to live.

"I've made a lot of really good friends in Singapore and I feel as though it's my home," he said. "The lifestyle is a lot better for me."

After playing as a professional for 17 years and working in the sport in England, Gilchrist said he was looking for a new challenge and the Singapore coaching offer came at the perfect time.

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