Jason Belmonte on the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the international tenpin bowling tour. By Richard Cooke.


Strike force: Jason Belmonte, 33, tenpin bowler

“You can do that for a living?” That’s the first question I get, to which I promptly reply: “Absolutely you can.” 

I try to be really open-minded about the culture here in Australia towards tenpin bowling. It’s much like when you go to other countries, for example the US, and you try to explain to them how popular cricket is. To them cricket is the most bizarre game.

I like that the ball always comes back to you. You never have to go chase that thing around anywhere. I love the competitions, it’s what drives me. I mean, I leave my family for six months of the year to do what I love, and the excitement and the fierce competitive nature that bowling can bring to me, it really does, I guess, quench a thirst in me.

First and foremost, we’re humans. We’re not going to like everyone, and it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or what you do for work, there are always going to be people that you clash with. It’s no different in bowling.

This is going to sound really nasty, but when I play soccer in the backyard with my son Hugo – he’s four – if I score a goal, I’m still quite vocal that I scored against him. It’s within my character to just want to be a little bit more vocal and a little bit more animated about it.

I started bowling when I was 18 months old. My parents built a bowling centre when I was born. So I was literally born into the industry and at the time, in 1985, the lightest bowling balls we had were 10-pound [4.5-kilogram] bowling balls, so as a toddler the bowling ball was just far too heavy for me to use a traditional style. I couldn’t use it with one hand so I would pick it up with two hands, kind of waddle to the line, throw it down as best as I could and then repeat that. 

The two-handed style I use is extremely controversial in the bowling world. When I first came out on tour in 2008, there was a belief that the style should be banned. But there’s no rule to stipulate what I was doing was in fact illegal. So there was a huge push back from the competitors.

When I started to truly dominate the pro tour from 2012 onwards, I think that’s when the controversy probably hit its peak. I was winning a lot more tournaments than my fellow competitors. I think it’s a bit like human nature, it’s a default mechanism in people that if someone is doing something better than you, for many people – I shouldn’t say all people – for many people the default mechanism is, “Well, he’s doing something that I can’t do, so it shouldn’t be allowed.”

It was really, really difficult. Because my family and my friends are obviously all Australians and based here in Australia, when I travelled for anywhere between four and eight weeks at a time and you’re in this environment or you’re surrounded by fellow competitors who, whether they dislike you personally or for your bowling style or for any other reason… It was really difficult to kind of put that aside and just focus on my bowling. 

I love to have a drink with anyone. I don’t really care who I’m with just as long as it’s a good time and we’re in a friendly environment. So when I went to this tour and I was experiencing not such a friendly environment – for me to walk into, it was a real shock. It was really hard to be able to go to bed at night, knowing I’ve got to go to this place again where there are conversations about me, in locker rooms or on the line, and it’s all negative.

I’m much older now. I think I’m a lot more wise. You tend to just turn the old earlobes off when you see or you hear that. 

There are tens of thousands of players around the world who have adopted the new style. I often say that one of the proudest things that I can do is help young children to use me as an example when facing their haters.

Why do they care so much? I don’t know. It’s the same people that, you know, post things on social media that you just shake your head at. It doesn’t make any sense. Why does it bother you so much that you know there’s a lady standing in front of you at the grocery store who’s taking 30 seconds longer to unpack her groceries?

I mean, you know, I don’t necessarily like the way that Rafael Nadal pulls his underpants out before every serve. But is it really in my best interest to tweet at him and say it’s disrespectful, and I hate that you do that and you should stop it immediately? I’ve got better things to worry about than hating on international competitors.


1 . This week’s highlights…

• Horseracing: Black Caviar, The Great Horse Raceday

Saturday, 1st race 12.30pm (AEDT), Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne

• Netball: Melbourne Vixens v Collingwood Magpies

Saturday, 7pm (AEDT), Hisense Arena, Melbourne

Soccer: A-League – Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC

Saturday, 7.50pm (AEDT), ANZ Stadium, Sydney

• AFLW: Adelaide Crows v Carlton

Sunday, 11.35am (ACDT), Thebarton Oval, Adelaide

Cricket: T20 – Southern Stars v New Zealand; Australia v Sri Lanka

Sunday, 2.35pm and 7.20pm (AEDT), Kardinia Park, Geelong

• Rugby union: Super Rugby – Melbourne Rebels v Auckland Blues

Thursday, 7.45pm (AEDT), AAMI Park, Melbourne

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 18, 2017 as "Strike force".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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