Two Hands on the Ball

bowler__1237117061_7948The Professional Bowling Association is desperate for attention, once one of the most popular sports on television, these days bowling is largely ignored by the mass populace because, you know, it’s boring. There was a time in the early 1980s when bowling was king; the PBA scored better television ratings than the Masters and the NBA finals weren’t even broadcast on TV.

Enter Jason Belmonte, a 25 year old Australian with an unorthodox style and 34 perfect games to his resume. Throwing two-handed, with just two fingers in the ball, Belmonte is able to generate significantly more rotations on the ball as it rolls down the lane, thus generating more energy to transfer to the pins. Most professional bowlers get about 400 rotations of the ball with each throw, Belmonte’s unique style enables him to get over 630 per toss.

The amateur World Bowler of the Year twice, (2004, 2007) Belmonte grew up in the bowling lanes his parents owned in Orange, Australia, about 130 miles west of Sydney. As an 18-month old his parents would give him a pair of shoes and a ball and let him have at the lanes for hours at a time, and since he wasn’t able to lift the 10-pound ball he started his two-handed motion. He won his first tournament at age 4, by 5 he was averaging 118 a round.

Now, the PBA is hoping that Belmonte will resurrect the sport to its once prominent place as part of the fabric of America. To that end, they gave him two consecutive exemptions for tournaments in the hopes that he might get to the finals that ESPN was broadcasting. He didn’t, either time.

Many of the bowlers on the pro circuit are torn about Belmonte, not because of his style, but the advantages the PBA has been giving him.

“I don’t think it’s fair. It’s just wrong, no offense to Jason,” said Walter Ray Williams Jr., who has won more titles than anybody in the history of professional bowling. “It slights a lot of players. They are breaking their own rules. He needs to earn a spot like everybody else. They are looking for a superstar and basically ignoring the stars they have in the process.”

But others, like Carmen Salvino, 75, a charter member of the PBA going back to 1958, are Belmonte fans.

“He’s got all the qualities of a rock star,” said Salvino. “His style is so unique. When I’m not bowling, I watch him. He’s good for all of us. Those that don’t like him are just plain jealous.”

The fans of bowling are taking notice and starting to come out to see the new sensation. “I feel like a groupie,” said Le-Ane Houan of Dayton, Ohio, after watching Belmonte in the Masters tournament. “I had to see it to believe it. It was impressive. I was amazed.”

Others professionals are seeing the results that Belmonte is getting and reexamining their own mechanics. The Bolivian national bowling team has switched completely to two-handed shots, and Chaz Dennis, a ten year old in Ohio rolled a perfect game, the youngest person on record to do so, using two hands.

“Its definitely going to be more than a fad,” said Rod Ross, head coach of Junior Team USA. “It’s one of the strongest styles of the future.”

[Boston Globe]

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