With 11 Commonwealth Games medals between them Alex Marshall and Paul Foster sit right at the top of Team Scotland’s list of all-time sporting greats. For our sport focus series we caught up with the pair to talk about their success, their friendship on and off the green and how they are keeping active through the lockdown period ready for a return to competitive action.
Their competitive record at the top of their sport is phenomenal, both individually and as a pair. Both have 18 World Indoor Championship medals to their name including four gold and two silver together in the Open Pairs since 2011. Alex has a record-breaking six World Indoor Singles titles with Paul just one behind on five.
Their record at the World Outdoor Championships is equally impressive, the championships in 2012 seeing them become the first pair ever to win World Indoor and Outdoor titles in the same year. Alex showed signs of what was to come with three gold medals in 1992 as the newcomer to a team that included names such as World and Commonwealth champions Richard Corsie and Willie Wood. Now with 14 medals, seven of them gold, he and Paul, with four medals from two championships, are the experience of the team.
So has how they approach a major championship changed at all on the back of their success and what is their secret to producing results time and time again?
“Myself and Alex have had a lot of success on the bowling green together, winning many gold medals and World titles,” says Paul. “It’s down to the friendship we have on and off the green, the support we have for each other is incredible. Being best mates makes each of our jobs on the green a lot easier, we encourage each other whether we play a good or a bad bowl and that has made us one of the most successful pairs ever.
“I’ve competed in four Commonwealth Games so far and many World Championships so I can relax when I go to these events as I know I have put in the practice time and effort to give it my best. I just tell my team mates to enjoy it and as long as you have given it 100% then the awards will come.”
“Myself and Paul know each other’s game inside out,” agrees Alex. “That has been a massive part of our success as we progressed over the years, and we’re also always in each others company off the green which makes us a formidable partnership.
“To be honest the experience has not changed from the start of my career, I still get the same buzz now as I used to. Yes, there is more expectation as you have been successful before, but that doesn’t affect me in any way as my approach to the game has not changed. I do pass on my experiences to the other players in the team, as the more they know the better it is for the team.”
Paul’s first Commonwealth Games was Melbourne 2006, Alex’s incredibly all the way back at Victoria 1994, and since their respective debuts they have steadily climbed the all-time medallist list. With five gold and one silver Alex is now Team Scotland’s most successful athlete in any sport while Paul, with four gold and a silver, sits third, with Olympic gold medallist sprinter Allan Wells between the two.
“It’s a great feeling being at the top of your sport, but for myself and Paul to be at the top of Team Scotland’s ladder for success is incredible,” says Alex. ” On the back of our successes I think it is great for our sport to be given the recognition it deserves.”
Paul echoes the sentiment: “Our recognition as top athletes for Team Scotland means everything, with Alex the most decorated Scottish athlete and myself sitting 3rd just behind Alan Wells. I think it means a great deal to our game of bowls and shows how far in the game you can go when you put your mind to it.”
Following Pairs gold in 2012 and bronze in 2016, the duo should have been back on the Commonwealth Games greens of Broadbeach, Gold Coast this month for the World Outdoor Championships. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the event being moved to 2021, meaning they must bide their time for another shot at the title.
“Obviously I was disappointed for World Bowls to be cancelled but we can all agree that everyone’s health comes first and is more important,” says Paul. “Bowls will always be there when we are ready to come back and knowing that the Championships have been rescheduled to May 2021 gives us something to look forward to, back in the Gold Coast where we were very successful at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
“Covid-19 has certainly hit all sports hard, but I have been out running and walking and watching old matches where I have won Commonwealth titles and World titles, so it keeps my mentality in the right place. Losing weight as well makes you feel you are going in the right direction to be prepared for the tournaments ahead.”
“Nothing really changes with the Worlds,” adds Alex. “The new date is the same time in 2021, with the same team, so it gives the team another year to prepare and I’m looking forward to returning to the lovely greens at Broadbeach.
“It has been difficult times for everyone out there. I have kept myself occupied with exercises in the morning, going for walks, and every day keeping my delivery action in place, so when things do go back to normal I will be raring to go. I cannot wait to start the competitive side of the game.”
Also on the horizon is the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and another opportunity to cement their place in Team Scotland history. For Alex it would be a seventh Games appearance, just one behind Team Scotland’s most capped Commonwealth Games athlete, fellow bowler Willie Wood.
“I will be available for selection and hoping to be selected,” he says. “My ambitions are always to medal, and hopefully gold. I know Leamington very well and the greens will suit the Scottish team.”
Paul is also raring to go and hoping to add to his medal tally: “Birmingham 2022 is definitely in my plans and I will be putting in all the hard work, as soon as we return to the greens, to get myself in the frame for selection. If selected my ambitions will be to medal in both disciplines and fingers crossed it’s the right colour that I get. The greens in Leamington are similar to what we we play on, so it will not take us long to get into our rhythm.”
With their past track record we certainly wouldn’t bet against 2021 and 2022 being more bumper years for this impressive duo and look forward to seeing them back doing what they do best very soon.