The recent World Ranking Masters Tournament held at Kegel Training Center in Lake Wales, Fla., was a true testimony to the ingenuity and hospitality of the founder and owner of Kegel, John Davis, arguably the most passionate individual in bowling. It was one of the most well coordinated tournaments I have ever attended. The warm welcome displayed by Kegel employees to all visitors was truly indicative of "Southern Hospitality"… right down to the smallest details. Staffers were kept busy picking up contestants and foreign officials and dignitaries from the Orlando airport to Winter Haven, a 75-minute drive southwest. Davis leased four mid-sized vans for this purpose. In addition to the airport transports, Kegel crews, under the direction of Brent Sims, were kept busy transporting bowlers, writers, and contestants to and from the host hotels in Winter Haven to Lake Wales, the tournament site, approximately 15 miles away. To my knowledge no one was left stranded at the airport, nor was anyone ever late for squad times.
The Kegel Training Center -- impressive and state of the art -- is unquestionably the most complete and most advanced bowling facility in the world. According to Germany's Herbert Bickel, editor of bowlingdigital.com and one of the most astute observers in the game, "There is no place like the Kegel Training Center in the world," and Bickel should know. The German computer whiz travels the world covering bowling and was in awe of the giant 75,000 square-foot building that manufactures lane conditioning machines, oil dressings, and lane cleaners. Kegel services more than 7,000 bowling centers in over 100 bowling nations across the world.
The bowling center consists of 12 lanes for teaching and tournaments, plus two isolated lanes used for experimental use. Every lane is equipped with CATS machines, (Computer Aided Tracking System) sophisticated monitors that are located behind each pair of lanes. The CATS machines were originally designed by the ABC and display accuracy, the speed of the ball, the breakpoint, and the point of entry into the pocket.
A first class pressroom is located upstairs with a viewing area of all 12 lanes. It was equipped with a spacious table for writers, along with food, beverages, and other goodies.
It was truly a magnificent setting for a world-class tournament that featured 25 amateur men bowlers and 25 female players who were selected via a point system compiled in World Tenpin Federation competition. Although the United States did not have a ranked player in the field, the tournament host was allotted one male and one female bowler. The choices were no-brainers: Diandra Asbaty, the defending World Ranking Masters champion and Kegel employee, John Janowitz, the 2004 record-setting ABC all-events champion.
In addition to Herbert Bickel, several other prominent international figures were in attendance -- Vivian Fong, Asian Bowling Federation Honorary Life President and Chairman of the Hong Kong Tenpin Bowling Congress Ltd, Canada's Hazel McLeary, Lane Process Verification Chairman, and Denmark's Kim Thorsgaard Jensen, Vice-President European Tenpin Bowling Federation and World Ranking Masters Tournament Director.
For someone who has had limited exposure to international bowling competition, I was greatly impressed with the overall quality of bowling execution by the contestants. Foreigners have come a long way in the sport of bowling. With the exception of the top 100 ranked PBA players, I believe many male bowlers who participated in this prestigious tournament are capable of holding their own with many of the best American bowlers.
Although this may seem an overzealous assumption, in my mind, one thing is crystal clear: Foreign bowlers, particularly those from Asia, South America and Europe, take the game far more seriously than American bowlers. Another notable factor: Foreign players are very reluctant to blame lane conditions for their shortcomings, particularly lanes conditioned by the Kegel Company. They assume full responsibility for their failure to execute properly. Perhaps this can be attributed to the spirit instilled in them by top-notch coaches.
A number of Asian countries -- Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Korea, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain -- hire and pay handsome salaries to coaches, mostly Americans.
I was privileged to meet and discuss bowling with a number of renown international coaches, including Pat Henry, head coach and director of coaching for Singapore, Brian Adelgren, head coach of Qatar, along with coaching consultant Mark Lewis, Craig Woodhouse, head coach of Dominican Republic, Chris Batson, head coach of Malaysia, along with assistant coach Bill Rowe, and Sid Allen, coaching consultant for several Asian national teams. Oddly three of the coaches I spoke with, Pat Henry, Mark Lewis, and Brian Adelgren were graduates of Wichita State University. Not in attendance were former Wichita State grads Keith Runyan, head coach of Bahrain, Marvin Foo, assistant coach for Singapore, and Gordon Vadakin, assistant coach for Team USA. Can you imagine six coaches from one small school in the Heartland of America? What a testimony to the remarkable coaching record of longtime Wichita State head coach, Gordon Vadakin.
Not to be overlooked was Team USA head coach, the ever-pleasant, ever-smiling Jeri Edwards, who not only tendered her coaching expertise to Asbaty and Janowitz but also led the cheering section for the American stars. Other American coaches not in attendance were Bill Lish, head coach for Saudi Arabia and Purvis Granger, head coach for the Philippines. Additionally, Fred Borden, Tom Kouros, and Bill Hall, three world-class coaches, have done notable bowling seminars throughout the bowling world.
Last, but most important, let's not forget America's Dick Ritger, an ABC and PBA Hall of Famer who gave up a successful PBA career to spread his teaching skills to the outside world, thereby paving the way for all others to follow.
Colombia's Clara Guerrero not only captured the women's World Ranking Masters championship, she won the hearts of all in attendance with her engaging beauty, effervescent smile, and incredible bowling performance. She eliminated defending champion Deandra Asbaty in the semifinals by striking out in clutch situations in her last two games. Incidentally, Guerrero is a member of the Wichita State women's championship team.
The two men's finalists, Kemmo Letonin and Jouni Helminen, proved beyond doubt, that Finland produces the top men's bowlers on the international scene. Actually, according to those in the know, several other Finns are considered on par or superior to Letonin and Helminen. Add to this, Mika Koivuniemi, former teammate of Letonin and Helmini, has established himself as one of the premier bowlers on the PBA Tour.
Although Letonin bested Helminen for the title, it was a sub-par performance by both men on TV. The bright lights on the TV pair had a profound affect on the playing surfaces, particularly following the three matches bowled by the ladies.
Although both Finnish stars bowled brilliantly to reach the championship round, it became evident the heat generated from the TV lights played havoc with the conditions. This undoubtedly forced them to alter their deliveries, which in turn, disrupted their rhythm and timing. Each game was played on alternate lanes and despite shooting a 250 game on one lane, Helminen seemed confused and lost in shooting two games below 160 on the other lane. Letonin was slightly better, but more amusing were Kemmo's acrobatic performances following his victory. Doing somersaults and walking erect on his hands, Letonin was as entertaining and impressive as a gymnast as he was in claiming the 2005 World Ranking Masters Championship.