AMIDST the boisterous crowd attending the 2010 Canadian Open fivepin bowling championship, Wes Payne stood in plain clothes cheering the yellow-clad Manitoba men's team as they took on their Quebec counterparts at the St. Vital Bowl on St. Anne's Road.
Unlike the many friends, family, and fans packing the bowling alley Thursday, Payne was there as more than just a spectator. For the first time in his career, the 27-year-old is representing Manitoba at the national level as a singles bowler. One might compare it to running in the 100 metres instead of anchoring the relay team.
While he considers the opportunity "a great honour," he spoke modestly about his role. "I'd be just as happy with a team gold as a singles gold," he said. "They both mean just as much to me."
Already having won national gold in team competition in back-to-back years, Payne defeated his longtime mentor Geoff Born -- currently playing on the men's team -- in provincials to earn the right to represent Manitoba on an individual level.
"I think this was the first time I'd ever beaten him in a tournament," he said, adding that "there's no one I'd rather play in a final. It was really special to have that win."
Payne credits his close friend with helping him improve his game.
"Bowling's entirely mental, especially at this level... it's about how you handle the pressure. Geoff's been there, helping me all along with mental tips and preparing for different scenarios."
Entering Thursday afternoon's singles play, Payne sat 47 pins back of the final spot in the stepladder playoff.
"I threw the ball pretty well," he said, discussing his play in the first of three shifts, each a series of seven games. "A couple of corners weren't going for me but that's the way it goes."
With the backing of an energetic hometown crowd, he remains optimistic. "It's nice to be playing at home, for sure, it's a big confidence booster," he said. "Plus, I've played nationals before, I've been on winning teams before...I know I can play with these guys."
The round robin wraps up today at the Dakota Bowling Lanes and St. Vital Bowl, with the finals on Saturday afternoon at St. Vital.