GREGORY Wilson, who trains the Indonesian bowling team, is familiar with all the stereotypes. Bowlers are the slackers of the sports world. They sit around drinking beers between turns. They take frequent smoke breaks. It’s a game. And it’ll never be in the Olympics.

Or so the story goes. But in Asia at least, Wilson said bowling is definitely not something you do with one hand in a bag of potato chips.

“Look around,” he said at the Asian Games competition, one of the premier contests for topflight bowlers in the world’s most populous region, a continent that takes its bowling very seriously.

Asia can certainly compete with the best of them. The South Korean women’s team of Choi Jin-a and Gang Hye-eun that won the doubles yesterday averaged 211 and 232. And the Indonesian man leading the masters competition, Ryan Lalisang, has an average of 233.

Shalin Zulkifli, a former gold medallist who competed in the Asian Games women’s doubles event, said bowling is perceived differently in Asia than in some other parts of the world.

She played on the US pro bowling ladies’ tour for three years and was shocked by what she saw. Smoking was common. Drinking even more so. The game seemed to be about – gasp – doing something really well, and having fun in the process.

Not so in Asia. “I think bowling in Asia and in the States has a totally different image,” she said. “In the States, they just go out and have fun and drink beer. In Asia, it’s a real serious sport.”

But the idea of bowling as a slacker recreation – immortalised by the “Dude” character in the movie The Big Lebowski – is something serious bowling is still trying to shake off.

While not an Olympic event, bowling is certainly one of the most established games played for sport and pleasure around the world. It was first played in ancient Egypt, though the most common form today, tenpin bowling, was invented in 1756 by Cornelius Connolly.

And, yes, it is physical. Bowlers wield balls of about 7kg, and in major tournaments play for hours a day, days on end. “You’ve got chess and billiards in the Asian Games,” said Indonesia’s Wilson. “Bowling is considerably more physically demanding than chess. There is a fair physical element to bowling.” — AP