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GOLD DIGGERS: Team USA Wins Three of Four Golds At the 2011 Pan Am Games

For U.S. bowlers pining for the Olympic experience, the quadrennial Pan American Games offer a pretty decent view. The recently completed 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, featured 6,000 American Zone athletes from 42 nations, competing in 36 sports (many of which are already contested in the Summer Games), making it the second largest multi-sport event.

And bowlers who have represented the United States since 1991, when bowling became a medal sport in the Pan Am Games, have enjoyed incredible success. Entering the 2011 Games, Americans had won 17 of a possible 24 gold medals in bowling.

The American quartet of Chris Barnes, Bill O’Neill, Kelly Kulick and Liz Johnson arrived at Bolerama Tapatio hoping to up that total to 21, and for a while it looked like that might well be the case. The Americans dominated qualifying in both doubles and singles, and in the end returned with three of the four possible gold medals.

In a field represented by 16 nations, Barnes and O’Neill topped the men’s field by 193 pins in doubles, leading from start to finish and finishing with a 12-game total of 5,211. Kulick and Johnson were even more impressing, leading from the opening game and blowing through the women’s field with 328 pins to spare, completing the 12 games with 5,257. “We worked very well together,” said Johnson, of Cheektowaga, N.Y. “We both had a good look and continued to make great shots.” In 24 combined games, neither bowler shot less than 190.

The Americans continued to dominate in singles, earning the top two spots in men’s and women’s qualifying. Johnson, who was second in qualifying, marched through three victories to reach the championship match, where she easily defeated Canada’s Jennifer Park, 232-196 and 235-190, in the best-of-three format. “There were some great players in this field,” Johnson said later. “It was a tough battle but it feels great to come out on top.”

Kulick, of Union, N.J., led the women’s field with a 12-game total of 2,644, but bowed out in the opening round of match play, losing to Brazil’s Stephanie Martins, 630-587, in a three-game total pinfall match.

In men’s singles, Barnes, of Double Oak, Texas, came within a match of completing a gold-medal sweep for the Americans, but lost in straight games to Colombia’s Santiago Mejia in the title match. “It is disappointing not to win the gold,” said Barnes, who fell to Mejia 189-171 and 205-193. “He bowled very well and kept all the pressure on me.”

Team USA’s O’Neill, of Southampton, Pa., also lost to eventual champion Mejia in a three-game, total pinfall quarterfinal match, 711-589. “Anytime you win three of four gold medals you can’t say anything but that it was successful,” Team USA head coach Rod Ross said. “Just to be recognized with the Olympic sports here at the Pan American Games is a great feeling,” Kulick added. “Any U.S. athlete who walks around with a gold medal around their neck is respected, and that’s a really nice feeling.”

Permission granted by USBC/Luby Publishing