If you were asked to make a list of Australia’s most successful current athletes, it’s unlikely anyone would include a world champion by the name of Jason Belmonte.
Belmonte is currently ranked world No.1 in his chosen sport, tenpin bowling.
The Aussie has re-written the record books and has revolutionised the game with his unique two-handed style.
From Orange, New South Wales, ‘Belmo’ took the bowling world by storm when he joined the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Tour in the US in 2008 after dominating as an amateur on the Australian, Asian and European circuits.
I first saw Belmonte bowl in the early 2000s, and I was in awe of his unique bowling style.
Traditionally, a bowler would insert three fingers – middle finger, ring finger and thumb – into a bowling ball and use one hand to deliver the ball.
Belmonte, however, only uses two fingers – middle finger and ring finger – and uses two hands to deliver his shot. The advantage of using two hands and no thumb is the ability to increase revolutions – the ball’s rotation speed, which creates hook – meaning the ball hits the pins with more power.
Belmonte can generate around 600 revs per minute whereas your traditional one-handed professional bowler averages around 350-450 revs per minute.
Often asked why he adopted the two-handed technique, Belmonte began bowling at his parents’ family-owned bowling centre when he was just 18 months old and he couldn’t lift the ball with one hand, so he used two hands to thrust the ball down the lane, and the unorthodox style was never coached out of him throughout his junior years.
When pundits analyse a particular athlete when determining whether they belong in the ‘greatest of all time’ conversation, a key argument used beyond achievements and statistics is whether they changed or revolutionised their sport.
The impact of Belmonte’s success has inspired a generation of young bowlers to adopt the two-handed style. The likes of Anthony Simonsen, Jesper Svensson and Kyle Troup – all two-handed professional bowlers – have experienced success on the PBA Tour by following the footsteps of Belmonte.
George Frilingos – a former Australian representative and a long-time friend of Belmonte – believes he should be recognised as one of the most successful athletes Australia has produced.
“Jason has not only become a world champion several times over, he has rewritten the record books at every possible level throughout his amateur career through to his professional career and as a result there are tens of thousands of kids around the world now bowling with two hands,” Frilingos said.
However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the Australian. He has often been the centre of controversy with many traditionalists arguing whether the technique is against the spirit of the game and even questioning if the two-handed delivery was legal, which led to studies being conducted on how the technique fit into the rules laid out many decades ago.
It was determined the two-handed delivery did not go against any regulations or break any rules, therefore it was a legal and has become a widely accepted part of the evolution of tenpin bowling.
Belmonte has since achieved unprecedented levels of success.
On his first televised finals appearance on ESPN ten years ago, Belmonte won his first PBA title – the 2009 Bowling Foundation Long Island Classic – then went on to claim the PBA Rookie of the Year award in his first season.
He now currently owns 22 PBA titles, which has him equal 11th on the most all-time titles list. And at age 35, he potentially still has another ten or 15 years on tour to continue racking up the wins.
Belmonte spends more than six months every year competing all over the world, but because he still lives in Orange, he doesn’t compete for the full PBA season schedule in order to spend as much time at home with his family as possible.
Some believe he’d have more titles to his name if he did compete for the full season, but for the world No.1, sharing his success with his family is just as important to them as it is for him.
“I can only hope that the time away and sacrifices we make to allow me the opportunity to do what I love is made worth it by my successes. I know they are proud and excited for me – it’s as much their success as it is mine,” said Belmonte.
The most remarkable statistic from his 22 titles is that 11 of them are majors, a PBA record he set in March.
The existing record of ten wins was jointly held by hall-of-famers Earl Anthony and Pete Weber. Belmonte joined them at the top of the list in February when he won the 2019 PBA Tournament of Champions, and just six weeks later, he stood alone on top of the all-time major victories list by winning the 2019 PBA World Championship to cement himself as one of the greatest of all time.
It was a tense final match for Belmonte at the World Championship.
Asked to describe his emotions and thought process knowing he needed to step up in the tenth frame, needing a strike and at least a spare to create PBA history, Belmonte describes the mindset required in clutch moments to become a champion.
“I honestly had a very clear mind and felt very calm. The last thought I remember having was, you know what to do, now go and do it. The emotions came flooding in once I had won.”
In a touching tribute during the post-match presentation, a video was shown of his children and their classmates erupting when he threw the final strike to win while watching a live stream of the world championship final at their school, back in Orange.
Despite breaking records and a future hall of fame induction a foregone conclusion, the two-hander is still motivated win more, create more history and remain at the top of the sport.
“To me, it helps create a legacy that I want to leave behind. I have always been labelled the best two-handed player in the world, my goal though has always been to be the best player in the world, irrespective of style.”
Belmonte is a four-time PBA player of the year (2013, ’14, ’15 and ’17) and with four tournament wins including two majors so far this season, he’s well on his way to earning a fifth gong, which will only strengthen his case in being regarded at the greatest tenpin bowler of all time.
According to Frilingos, Belmonte has been likened to some of the all-time sporting greats.
“In the US, he’s been compared to Tiger Woods, Tom Brady and Michael Jordan in their respective sports.”
To be held in such high regard, it’s unfortunate that tenpin bowling doesn’t get the same exposure in Australia as it does in the US, because Jason Belmonte certainly deserves to be mentioned among Australia’s premier athletes.