Oliver pots record break of 303
Christchurch cueist Gary Oliver has spent his time scooping billiards balls out of pockets for New Zealand legends Dave Meredith and Brian Kirkness, but now he feels he can be treated as an equal.
The 52-year-old self-proclaimed billiards nut won his 10th consecutive national title last weekend in Auckland, beating Gary Hayward 1519-994.
But it was not the national title that elevated him in the history books - he still has to win five more titles to equal Meredith - but a New Zealand record break of 303, eclipsing the previous mark of 301 set by Kirkness.
The record came in the final and proved to be a turning point as Oliver went clear of Hayward in the third session.
A year ago, after winning his ninth title, Oliver told The Press that 15 national titles did not register in his thinking, but Kirkness' record was one he wanted to break.
"It's not what drives me," Oliver said of the title run. "I'm more interested in breaking Brian Kirkness' break of 301."
Fast-forward 12 months and it is mission accomplished. "It was a pretty special moment for me; something I have wanted to achieve for a long time," Oliver said.
"As I got close to 300, you could have heard a pin drop in the room.
"There were probably 50 to 60 people there, and no-one was saying anything."
Approaching arguably the biggest moment of his career, nerves were not a big issue, although he did try to lighten the situation.
"I did make the comment as I was getting ready to play that shot that ‘was it just me or are there some nerves around here?"' he said.
"There was a bit of a fist pump when the red ball dropped into the pocket, but then I had to get back to finishing the match but I missed my next shot.
"The break pretty much killed the match though. Things had been a bit scrappy up until that point and it gave me enough of a lead to go on and win it."
Kirkness' record was set in 1974, three years before Oliver started playing billiards.
He was then a 17-year-old who got bored playing snooker so shifted his focus to billiards. He has never looked back.
Self-taught, he has worked his way through the challenges a young player faces when entering a new sport, and he is now providing his wealth of knowledge to the next wave of talent coming through.
"I'm still doing a lot of coaching, and enjoying it too," he said.
"It gives me great satisfaction to watch a player I have helped out play well.
"There are some handy players coming through the ranks but as is always the case, there aren't a large number of new players."
So what about those 15 national titles? "The drive and determination to succeed is still there for me," Oliver said.
"And I am still really enjoying playing, so I can't see any reason why I won't be around long enough for it to be possible." Oliver will not head to the world championships this year because of the cost and his work.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Are you going to Cup Day today?Related story: Chanelle set for 'crazy week'