20/04/2024

Jason Belmonte celebrates with his family after winning 2020 PBA World Championship, his 13th major title. (Picture: tenpin.org.au)

One of Australia's greatest sporting people of all time continues to fly under the radar; tenpin bowler Jason Belmonte.

One of Australia’s greatest sporting people of all time continues to fly under the radar; tenpin bowler Jason Belmonte.

Australia’s best

We have all heard the legends of Australian sport mentioned over and over. Bradman, Laver, Fraser, Warne. The lists are endless. A simple Google search of ‘Australia’s greatest ever athletes’ will find multiple such lists.

Each list has its variation of order, but the names remain the same. Every one of these athletes has done things in their sport that may never be achieved again.

One name however, continues to be overlooked. Jason Belmonte, or ‘Belmo’ to those in the know: the unrecognised tenpin bowler from Orange, NSW. The country boy who had a dream to become the best in the world.

A feat he not only achieved, but one he has held the title of for over decade, dominating the Professional Bowling Association (PBA), all whilst flying so far under the radar back home. Most Australians still think bowling is clown shoes and gutter balls.

It’s a numbers game

When we talk about great athletes we can’t help but drop the numbers. Numbers are the biggest thing in sport these days. Champion Data alone is a huge company dedicated wholly to recording statistics for majority of Australia’s biggest sports.

We have all been to a barbeque with a bunch of sports fans. “Dustin Martin has three Norm Smiths”, “Shane Warne had 708 test wickets”. We sporting fanatics crave it. It gives fuel to our arguments.

Belmonte’s stats are nothing short of astounding. He was Rookie of the Year in his first season (2008-09). He is a six-time PBA Player of the Year. He’s won a record setting 13 career PBA major titles, with 25 PBA titles in total.

A five-time PBA highest average award winner and four time ESPY winner, he’s amassed over USD1.8 million in prize money along the way. None of this even includes his International and Australian titles. Then in February 2021, he bowled his 100th career 300 game.

We are not talking about someone who has done “okay”, at their sport. Belmonte has done more in tenpin bowling in his 13 year PBA career, then most sports people will achieve in their lifetimes.

Jason Belmonte salutes the heavens after winning the 2020 PBA US Open (Picture: USBC Photos)

Not so straightforward

Now everyone knows that tenpin bowling is leather soled shoes, wooden lanes, wooden pins, and a heavy ball. Well that’s not entirely correct. What happens behind the scenes at a bowling alley is much more complex.

The balls you use when you go for a game with friends or family are usually plastic. What you don’t see, is they have a weight inside, usually round. As you get to elite levels, this all changes.

Balls can be coated in a reactive resin, polyurethane or plastic. They can have a symmetrical or asymmetrical weight block inside, and be polished, or sanded to a matt finish.

Balls are weighed before a tournament to ensure they fit inside the parameters of size, as well as side and thumb weights being checked for legality. That’s right ‘balls’, plural. One is not sufficient at this level.

Once you get your head around that, to complicate matters more, the lanes change. They may remain the same length and width physically, but the playable length and width changes.

The lanes are oiled in predetermined patterns. These patterns may be short or long, heavy or light. They may be narrow or wide, and shaped like a hill or a pyramid. Like a Test cricket pitch, they deter over time. As the ball travels over the oil its spread, carried down and even removed by the ball. Imagine trying to bowl at one stump on a fifth day pitch with a 16 pound (7.25kg) ball.

Then, to top it all off, you don’t bowl one or two games on the same lane. You bowl up to 12 games back to back, changing lanes every game. You may bowl these 12 game blocks three or four times, and that’s just to qualify for match play. Then you have match play and finally the tv event.

It takes an elite athlete with strength, stamina and concentration.

Lane oil patterns used in the PBA. (Picture: PBA.com)

The battle

All athletes have their battles, and Belmonte has not been immune to this dark side of sport. Normally when we think of a sporting battle we imagine illness, injury and competitors. What Belmonte has endured however, makes his achievements even more amazing.

As a young boy Belmonte did what all kids do at a bowling alley. He bowled with two hands. We have all seen kids bowl at some time or another. The lanes can be slippery and the balls heavy, its hard for a kid.

Belmonte was lucky enough that his parents owned the local bowling centre, the Orange Tenpin Bowl. So he spent numerous hours practicing and playing around. As he got stronger he would naturally transition into bowling one handed right? Wrong.

Orange Tenpin Bowl is host to school holiday programs like the ‘Bowl Patrol’ camp. (Photo: tenpin.org.au)

He continued to bowl with two hands, a technique that was ridiculed and questioned. He become so fluent in it there was no turning back. Through his style, he could generate more speed and revolutions then anyone else. No one could hit the pins and carry strikes like he could.

As a result of his technique, bowling laws changed multiple times. Ball weight rules, thumb hole positioning rules, the list goes on. But every time a rule change occurred, Belmonte adapted and prevailed. This only fuelled the haters.

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Haters gonna hate

Mental health in our sporting stars is front of mind these days. Not so long ago we had our sporting heroes shaped as superheroes.

In our minds we had forgotten they were human. We expected them to take whatever negativity was thrown at them and go on unaffected. No greater example of this was seen in the Adam Goodes saga in the AFL. A great of the game struck down by constant ridicule.

Like any other sporting great, Belmonte also had his haters. But this hatred wasn’t restricted to some friendly banter when he beat your favourite player. It was personal, a biproduct of his unique technique.

A vast array of the bowling community labelled him a cheat. Yes, there it was, that word. There are a lot of things a sportsperson can be called in the heat of battle, but a cheat is the lowest.

We weren’t talking about a person who rubbed sandpaper on a cricket ball or bet on a horse another jockey was riding. The reality was, no one else could replicate what he did, and they hated him for it. He was simply so good, what he was doing had to be cheating right? Incorrect.

There was no rule that stated you had to use one hand or that you had to put your thumb in the ball. Belmonte just retained his off hand on the ball longer then anyone else. It wasn’t textbook, coaches didn’t train you that way, but it didn’t make it wrong.

What Belmonte did next was surprising. He didn’t let the haters win, he embraced them, almost challenged them to keep hating him, like it drove him.

In 2014 he came up with the concept of ‘Singular Chirophobia – the fear of using one hand’. Making a short film about his ‘condition’ to add more fuel to the fire.

Belmonte’s short film ‘Singular Chirophobia – The fear of using one hand’.

The G.O.A.T. argument

Who is the greatest of all time (G.O.A.T.)? It’s an argument that can have friends and family go at it for hours.

Golf has Tiger Woods, tennis has Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams. Basketball has Michael Jordan. Bowling has Jason Belmonte.

Bowling hasn’t been without its contenders, however. Earl Anthony had 41 career PBA titles, Walter Ray Jr. had 47. Then there’s Norm Duke and Pete Weber with 40 and 37 respectively. Belmo only has 25, how can he compare?

Being the G.O.A.T. isn’t just about what you do. It’s how you do it. It’s the record 13 major titles.

For comparison, Tiger Woods has won 15 majors. He has won every major on offer at least once. He has averaged one major a year for his career, a career that hasn’t yet reached half as long as the bowlers mentioned above, and he has won three more then the next closest competitor.

The best players shine in the biggest moments, on the hardest stages, and he has done it all away from home for long periods.

It’s not just what he has done on the lanes that makes Belmonte the best. He’s become an icon for the sport.

In 2020 Flo Bowling indicated that over 20 percent of all youth bowlers in the USA were now bowling with two hands, a figure that was growing at an increasing rate. Many of the current top ranked PBA players are now also bowling with a two handed technique.

He has collaborated with his major sponsor, Storm Bowling, to create his own line of bowling balls and apparel, including development of new ideas and technologies. He is also an ambassador for tenpin bowling both in Australia, and at a world level.

Belmonte even travelled to Tokyo to personally present a case for inclusion of tenpin bowling at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Away from the lanes

Husband to Kimberly and father to Aria (12), Hugo (nine), Sylvia (five) and Bowie (seven months), Belmont enjoys his family time whilst he’s back home. He’s a regular sharer of proud moments with his children on his social media accounts.

He returned home from his PBA tour in June 2021 for the birth of Bowie, and chose to remain at home for the remainder of the season. A chance to enjoy family life, something he goes large stints without.

When he has down time during the PBA season, Belmo tends to find a way to put a fun spin on the seriousness of his bowling.

He has collaborated with Dude Perfect on multiple trick shot videos and set a world record for the fastest bowling strike. Bowling from the passenger seat window of Aric Almirola’s Nascar at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the pins were destroyed at 140MPH (225KPH).

Jason Belmonte bowls worlds fastest bowling strike.

Most recently Belmo has spent his time creating a collection of NFTs highlighting his 25 PBA title victories. They were released for public sale on January 5.

What’s next for Belmo?

After returning home early from the PBA tour last year, speculation and rumours have grown regarding Belmonte’s future.

On January 2, he put all chatter to rest with an announcement via Twitter that he would be returning to the PBA for season 2022, fulfilling his 2019 contract obligations with Storm Bowling.

What happens after season 2022, only Belmonte knows. One thing is for sure however, he wont go out because someone said he’s ‘too old’, or he’s “lost it”. He will go out on his terms when he wants to.

Until then, there’s many more pages to this story still come. Who knows, one day he may even get recognised walking down the street in Australia.

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