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2-handed delivery gets bowler attention

Jason Belmonte's delivery is like any other professional bowler's, to a point. The 25-year-old Australian grabs a ball from the return, takes a few steps back from the line, and then moves smoothly toward the tenpin lane as if to bowl like a right-hander.

india Updated: Mar 13, 2009 10:35 IST

Jason Belmonte's delivery is like any other professional bowler's, to a point.

The 25-year-old Australian grabs a ball from the return, takes a few steps back from the line, then moves smoothly toward the tenpin lane as if to bowl like a right-hander.

From here, it all becomes strikingly different. Belmonte, maintaining a delivery and grip that he's used since he first bowled at his parents' alley when he was 18 months old, whips the ball down the lane with two hands.

"I pick the ball up, and I start as if I am going to bowl one-handed," Belmonte said recently in a telephone interview from Nice, France, where he lived for much of last year with his wife, Kimberly.

"You would not have a clue until I let the ball go, because it's the same kind of routine. But it just so happens that my left hand stays on the ball until the last millisecond before I let go." And that's what is getting attention.

He's had 34 perfect 300 games, a figure he says is 'modest' compared with other professional bowlers. But one of them came in the final of the World Masters in Barnsley, England two years ago, when he also beat American star and 2007-08 PBA bowler of the year Chris Barnes in the semifinals.

"At first glance it seems like a joke," Barnes said at the time when asked to describe Belmonte's two-handed style. "Then it gets a little scary."

Not really. Belmonte, who plays predominantly in Europe but just spent a month in the United States on the PBA Tour, is just doing what he's done since he was a kid.

"Everything in terms of timing and balance is the same as a traditional player," Belmonte said. "Where I differ is in the back swing and release.

"As I push the ball away, my left hand stays on the ball during the whole back swing and only comes off just before my release at the line. My release is where I generate my power. When bowling with two hands, the thumb is not inserted into the bowling ball, meaning my two fingers are used to their full potential to create revolutions."

Belmonte's ball can spin at up to 600 revolutions per minute, nearly 20 percent more than bowlers using a one-handed delivery. He lets go from near the left gutter, sending the ball on a line across the lane to the edge of right gutter before it curves sharply back into the pocket, producing strikes on a regular basis. Only PBA regulars Cassidy Schaub and Brian Valenta of the United States and Osku Palermaa of Finland use the two-handed "shovel" technique regularly in pro events. Palermaa has won eight European titles.

Belmonte wouldn't have been among them if some coaches had had their way.

"When I was growing up, I was told to stop bowling like a kid and use one hand by an Australian team coach," Belmonte said on his Web site.

"I was told that the way I was bowling was not only wrong but it was stupid, and if I was to be a serious bowler I must quit bowling two-handed and bowl like everyone else. Problem was that when I would bowl like everyone else, I lost all drive and all fun on the lanes."
He persisted, and the results came.

By the age of 5, he had an average of 118 and a high game of 175. In 2000, he became the first Australian competing as a junior overseas to bowl 300, and in the same year won five gold medals at the junior domestic championships.

He represented Australia internationally over the next four years, and in 2005 began competing on a more regular basis in overseas events. He won the Kuwait Open and had several top-five finishes in Asia and in Europe.

He appeared in the World Masters for the first time in 2005, bowling a 300 in his first game and finishing third overall. He won his first European event in 2006, then added the Masters crown in 2007 with a win over Paul Moor of England, bowling one 300, throwing strikes in 23 of 24 frames, and finishing with a two-game total of 566.
Along the way, he's had his share of criticism, mostly over the possibility of long-term injuries from twisting his body so strangely during his delivery.

Belmonte jokingly refers to himself as a 'crash-test dummy' and admits he and the few other pros who bowl two-handed might be guinea pigs.

In all seriousness, though, he plays down those possibilities. "I've been injury free, and a lot of people who really don't understand are trying to look for negatives," Belmonte said from France.

"They're all assuming that by the time we're 32, we'll be pushing ourselves around in wheelchairs. But I've done it this way since I was 18 months old. My body has built muscles in certain areas. If I bowl one-handed, I start to get sore." He's also had to take some criticism for the exemptions he received to appear on the PBA Tour. His unorthodox delivery being a drawing card, he received entries into some tournaments that others had to qualify for.

"It is upsetting a few people, but it's worth it," Belmonte said. "It's my workplace, basically, and I jumped into the deep end of the pool, but I showed I can hold my own against these guys. You're not going to please everybody."

He underscores the difficulty of competing in the US, saying that lane conditions, including the amount of oil used on lanes at PBA Tour events, can take up to five years to get used to. And that in Europe, 15 or 16 bowlers can win in any given week, a figure that rises to 50 or more in the US

Not that he'll be discouraged from coming back soon. He's entered in a tournament this week near Paris, next week in Sweden, and hopes to return to the US from March 23-30 for the US Open at North Brunswick, New Jersey.

Traveling brings up one of his pet peeves: the fact that most airlines don't consider bowling a sport _ so no baggage allowances for their equipment.

"I have countless arguments with staff with different airlines about my bowling balls," Belmonte said. "You can bring a canoe on a plane, and that's no problem, but try to take a few extra bowling balls."
His most pleasant flights, regardless of the baggage charges, are home to Orange, a town of 40,000 about two hours west of Sydney, where his parents, Marisa and Aldo Belmonte, still run the Orange Tenpin lanes they started 26 years ago, and now two others. His only sibling, sister Rebecca, 22, bowls socially but never took up the sport as seriously _ or as unusually _ as her older brother. "He was an all-around good sports person in tennis, squash, soccer, rugby union, cricket," said his mother, speaking from Orange.

She's glad he stuck with bowling, and with his unorthodox delivery.

"We never really gave it much thought ... the two-handed thing was something he did and he enjoyed it," Marisa Belmonte said. "As he got older and stronger, and developed his own style, we never really went past thinking of anything else."

First Published: Mar 13, 2009 10:14 IST