Olympics? Why? By Frenchy Letourneau

    08/21/06

    Column

    Republished courtesy of TenPin Alley

    ColumnistFrenchyLetourneau.jpgThis discussion has gone on for decades.
    "Shouldn't bowling be an Olympic sport?"
    "What do we have to do to get into the Olympics?"
    "Badminton and ballroom dancing made it. Why not bowling?"

    Until recent years, I envisioned the Olympics as the ultimate test of gifted athletes who have trained hard and possess the heart and desire to win gold for their country. That is pretty much the case with athletes in all countries, and certainly with Team USA athletes who usually make a great showing in all sports.

    I say recent years because now that the International Olympic Committee gets to exploit television coverage which begets merchandising which begets competition for air time which begets huge dollars for the IOC, could it be the actual games themselves are taking a back seat to commercials, banners, logoed clothing and everything else associated with merchandising, or is it just good business? Should the Olympics be a business?<
    Let's imagine that bowling miraculously gets selected to medal status. Just how much air time are we looking at? 3:00 A.M. spots with highlights of someone throwing a strike?

    Let's envision a play-by-play announcer with high pitch excitement as the last ball is thrown to determine the gold:

    "It's an excellent execution... Hans has delivered flawlessly... The ball has HIT IT'S MARK... MY GOD IT'S HEADING TOWARD THE POCKET... THE PINS ARE SCATTERING IN A SPECTACULAR ARRAY... OH GOD... A SOLID 8... CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? HANS HAS TO SETTLE FOR SILVER...!! What an upset... The American is handed the gold on an apparent flawless execution by the German."

    We don't have that intense excitement afforded to all those sports that have to beat a time, distance, height, another contender in a heat, or the watchful eye of the judges.

    We have excitement in a bowler having to strike out and doing it, but all too often a game is over by the 9th frame, with many runaways because an opponent "had the wrong ball" or "couldn't find the line" and my favorite, "got the bad breaks."

    Our TEAM USA bowlers are expertly trained, but how they are selected is still determined by one tournament. I've always felt that the coaches who will be working with the athletes should have ABSOLUTE choice as to who they want on the team. At least now they get to pick a few, but the winners of the tournament are given first choice, regardless of ability.

    Granted, the qualifying tournament is a great test, but just like the PBA Tour Trials, anyone can enter, and anyone has a chance. In most cases, the cream rises to the top. The U.S. has a great TEAM USA. But are they the BEST possible team if we had to choose 5 to compete in the Olympics? For now, let's say yes, they would probably dominate most countries, but a large number of foreign countries are starting to give us a rough time in international competition.

    Do you remember this? In August 1997, the finals of the women's National Amateur Championship tournament was televised. The final match pitted Lisa Duenow and Janet Piesczynski for the title of Amateur Champion. Lisa finished first and Janet needed a double to win. She packed the first one. Then, the next ball off her hand went wide and left the 1-2-4 standing. But wait - a pin is still rolling... rolling... tips the 4 into the 2, the 2 into the 1... STRIKE! NATIONAL CHAMPION!

    Janet went on to win many medals for TEAM USA and has shown us she is truly world class, but her ascension to the throne of NAC was, unfortunately, not her best work. I kinda felt sorry at the time for her and Lisa, but at least they both made the team, and have proven to be world class.

    My point here is, after all the fervor over superior talent Chris Barnes winning $200,000 with an errant shot, could an athlete stand proudly on an Olympic podium to be awarded the gold on a crossover strike... especially when the poor soul that gets silver left that solid 8 pin with a flawless execution.

    Therein lies my doubts that bowling is qualified to be Olympic, as it was initially intended. You can score well with an errant shot and be left behind with flawless execution. The key word here is SCORE. Games are scored. Sports are judged, or rewarded for maximum performance based on physical efforts, not a calculated number.

    Sure, tennis is scored. But man, look at the physical execution needed to attain a score. Errant shots rarely earn points in tennis.

    I have always contended that the SPORT of bowling ends at the foul line, and the GAME takes over. Pure execution does not guarantee success. Small, and sometimes large errors can steal victory, simply because an error can allow a SCORE to advance, not the athlete.

    I am blessed with the fortunate experience of bowling in the ABC National Tournament with Joe Norris for three years, two of those as his doubles partner. One day at lunch, Joe told me "Bowling does not need the Olympics. We have the World Cup."

    His feelings were based on the fact that the Games were becoming too commercialized and there was talk of bribery and begging that he felt was improper.

    I agree. Bowling should have it's own international competition... and we do. The AMF World Cup has all the class and respect that the Olympics used to have before coming commercialized. Athletes train hard, have country pride, and take it damn seriously.

    The other good thing about the World Cup is that the event is exclusively bowling. Solid 8's and crossovers are expected. Mistakes and breaks are expected. The SPORT and GAME are factored in. It's a BOWLING event, and we like it just fine.

    Olympics Shlimpics. Leave that to the grandstanding snowboarders and the millionaire kids who just "wanna play."

    I'm under the impression that, aside from the team sports, an Olympic medal is 100% athlete with no game variables.

    I will always enjoy the Summer Games because real world class athletes are showcased and truly earn their medals for their efforts. I also like many of the winter sports too, like speed racing and ski jumping, because style and grace as well a maximum effort are rewarded. There is no place for an "errant shot." Small mistakes have big consequences.

    Sure, many if not most of you will disagree. Some believe bowling will be greatly rewarded if it becomes a medal sport. Maybe so, but can they make the playing field 100% perfectly fair for every game, every block, every day? Obviously not. Too many variables.

    How can you guarantee that the person standing on the podium can feel great pride in the fact that preparation, execution and results were flawless and truly earned?

    At the World Cup, it's OK. It's a bowling event with a great history of its own.


    Frenchy Letourneau is the owner/editor of TenPin Alley, a bowling newspaper "serving bowlers everywhere from Las Vegas, Nevada, the bowling tournament capital of the world!.
    tenpinvegas@hotmail.com