Jan 31, 2020, 5:00 am SGT
Evergreen Gilchrist plots to become first to win cue sports world titles across 40 years
He is more than half a century old, but billiards world champion Peter Gilchrist does not feel age has slowed his professional career at all. Not even when he has to negotiate matches that can last up to eight hours at a go.
The 51-year-old, who was introduced to the game by his father at the age of 12, said: “When I won the IBSF World Billiards Championship in 2016, I played a five-hour semi-final and a six-hour final on the same day.
“I don’t tire and my eyesight is good. I don’t feel any different than when I was 21.”
The biggest change is in his trophy cabinet. After taking eight years to win his first two world championships and then suffering an 11-year drought, the last seven years have yielded four more world titles.
Last year was his most prolific yet. Other than winning the World Billiards Championship in Melbourne, he won two other finals in Australia, and was a champion in Wales, Thailand, Canada and England.
His sterling performances earned him a nomination for The Straits Times Athlete of the Year award, but Gilchrist is not done yet.
Remembering a conversation with retired world champion Mark Wildman, Gilchrist said: “Mark was 48 when he won for the first time in 1984 and he said he played his best billiards when he was 52.
“He’s a clever guy because that is exactly how I feel now.
“I was 20 when I reached my first world championship final. But when I look back at the footage of that final, my shot selection then was poor, like a novice.
“English billiards is a perfectionist’s game. And it takes very long to be good and develop a good pattern of play, like how a chess master learns more moves and makes things simpler for himself.
“You know the saying about putting in 10,000 hours of practice to be world class at something? It took me about 20,000 hours to be really proficient and among the world’s top five, and I must have close to 40,000 hours now.”
While he admitted to having sleepless nights when he lost games in the past, he has since learnt to let go.
He added: “Now, I am not so hard on myself and maybe this new mentality helps me win more because I don’t think I have got much more to prove now.
“This is not to say I’m contented with six world titles. I would like to make it 10!”
Remaining as hungry as ever, Gilchrist stays in shape by swimming 50 laps five times a week. Before tournaments, he would train six to seven hours each day, six times a week for up to three weeks.
So what drives him to keep going besides his love for the game?
It is his pursuit of history: Gilchrist could possibly become the first cue sports athlete to win world titles across four decades if he wins another world championship from next year.
But he also hopes his success can inspire the future generation to pick up a sport that is now behind pool and snooker in the cue sports popularity stakes.
Estimating the local English billiards community to be about 30 players, Gilchrist said: “We have two World Billiards coaches, we have the facilities, but when I tried to host a clinic six months ago, there was zero response. I would like somebody young from Singapore to fill my boots, but it is difficult.
“I can play billiards all the time because I love it, but kids have so many things to do these days.
“For now, I’m focused on my playing career but I am definitely open to helping fresh talents get to another level. At the 2017 SEA Games, we won gold in English billiards, pool and snooker, so we have the talents in Singapore.”