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Bowling’s Olympic Dreams

By Gianmarc Manzione


With news of Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games comes renewed focus on bowling's effort to be recognized as an official Olympic sport. Chicago, a city with a rich bowling tradition that includes the headquarters of Bowlers Journal International as well as legends such as Carmen Salvino and the "King Louie" bowling team of ABC Tournament fame, would seem an appropriate setting for bowling's Olympic debut. While officials such as World Tenpin Bowling Association President Kevin Dornberger caution that bowling will not be ready for Olympic recognition as soon as 2016, Chicago's current prominence in the Olympic spotlight also draws attention to bowling's past, present and future efforts to someday find its place in the Olympic Games.

The effort to earn Olympic recognition for the sport of bowling extends back over 20 years to the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul where bowling was featured as an exhibition sport, beginning a string of three consecutive Olympics in which bowling was either an exhibition or International Olympics Committee-authorized sport. In 1992 Brunswick - who sponsored Team USA at the time - funded an unofficial bowling center on the IOC Olympic Village premises where IOC members themselves participated in the sport.

Similarly, in 1996, a recreation center on the grounds of the Olympic Village in Atlanta once again welcomed bowlers and IOC members to take part in the sport. More recently, the International Bowling Federation (FIQ) hosted a reception at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City to promote the sport before IOC members. As WTBA President Dornberger advises, however, these sporadic efforts must culminate now in a more unified and sustained campaign if bowling is ever going to earn the Olympic recognition that it seeks.

"Rather than our sporadic attempts in the past," Dorneberger says, "we have to engage in a slow, methodical process. It is a long-term project; we can't expect instant success."

Challenges that bowling must face before becoming an official Olympic sport include broadening its appeal by achieving greater media exposure for major bowling events around the world, establishing a worldwide youth development program, and ensuring that Olympic bowling would be conducted on the kind of demanding lane patterns used at international events such as the Men's and Women's World Championships. For Kevin Dornberger, though, that latter objective is the least-pressing of the three and of little concern to the IOC.

"Some say we're not in the Olympics because the sport is too easy," says Dornberger, "but you only have to look at our World Championship competitions to see that scores are not inflated."

Some of the greatest bowlers in the world today agree.

"It would be a tough pattern," 2009 Women's World Champion Stefanie Nation says of the lane conditions that would likely be implemented should bowling become a part of Olympic competition, "it certainly would not be a house shot."

"The lane man always wins if he wants to," 12-time Professional Bowlers Association titlist and Team USA member Chris Barnes said earlier this year. "At the U.S. Open it's a perfectly flat lane condition, so there's no help left and right and there is not much help front to back either. The tiniest imperfections show up on something like that."

The primary objectives of broadening bowling's exposure through greater media attention and establishing a worldwide youth development process remain major priorities on Dornberger's agenda.

"I am absolutely committed to increasing presentation skills at our championship events, and to see that a worldwide youth development program is instituted," Dornberger says.

With the recent success of international stars such as Shalin Zulkifli of Malaysia, 2009 Women's World Championships All-Events winner Clara Guerrero of Columbia, and two-handed bowling sensation Jason Belmonte of Australia among many others, bowling is taking on an increasingly global face and must continue to do so if it is to ever attain official Olympic recognition.

While Dornberger expresses strong support for Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Olympics, he also stresses that bowling's chances of becoming an Olympic sport depend heavily on the extent to which the global bowling community contributes to that effort.

"This is a world effort, a WTBA effort," Dornberger emphasizes. "It cannot just be a United States effort or it will fail. We need more resources than that to succeed."

*Courtesy of  USBC and