July 27, 2012

Bowling in the Olympics

As the world enters into another Summer Olympics, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at bowling’s brief appearance in the Games. Now this isn’t going to be a position piece on why bowling should be an Olympic sport, though I’m sure we will see those articles pop up throughout the rest of the year, as they do every Olympic year. This is meant to be a retrospective look back at the sport’s brief moment (and I do mean brief) in the Olympic spotlight.

Bowling’s relationship with the Olympics dates back to 1936, when an international tournament was held in Berlin prior to the start of those infamous Games. American Joe Norris earned the silver medal at the event, which must have caught the eye of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because bowling was scheduled to be an exhibition sport at the 1940 Games in Tokyo; however, the 1940 Olympics were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II.

The sport of bowling never lost sight of the goal to reach Olympic sport status and in 1952 the Federation Internationale des Quilleurs (FIQ) was founded by several European countries to develop an international bowling community and keep those dreams alive.  The FIQ serves as the IOC-recognized federation for the sport of bowling, one of thirty-three sports recognized by the IOC but not currently participating in the Games.

Official bowling poster of the 1988 Summer Games.

Bowling’s only official involvement in the Olympics took place during the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea, as an exhibition sport. The event took place on September 18th at the Royal Bowling Center in Seoul. Twelve men and twelve women representing twenty countries took part in the tournament, which consisted of an eleven game round robin followed by a three bowler stepladder medal round. The entire exhibition had nine hours to complete the tournament, from opening ceremonies to the medal presentations. As per Olympic tradition at the time, only amateurs were permitted to enter the tournament, though Carol Gianotti of Australia, a former LPBA champion, did compete, but failed to medal.

In the Men’s event, the United States was represented by Mark Lewis, a McDonald’s manager from Wichita. During round robin play Lewis averaged 198.82, which was good enough for sixth place.  The complete round robin results were as follows:

1. Jack Loke Chin, Japan 2435
2. Kwon Jong Yul, South Korea 2333
3. Tapani Peltola, Finland 2274
4. Philippe Dubois, France 2261
5. Kanesumi Mori, Japan 2248
6. Mark Lewis, United States 2237
7. Luis Valezx, Puerto Rico 2209
8. T.C. cheng, Chinese Taipei 2165
9. Walter Costsa, Brazil 2154
10. Wolfgang Strupf, West Germany 2101
11. Christer Danielsson, Sweden 2084
12. Marcos Brosens, Argentina 2032

In the first stepladder match, South Korea’s Yul barely defeated Finalnd’s Peltola in a 177-164 finish. Yul then went on to defeat the top seeded Chin of Singapore 236-194, forcing a third game under the tournament’s double elimination format. In the championship match Yul threw eight strikes to best Chin 254-223 and win the gold for the host country.  NBC Sports aired portions of the final on television and the enthusiastic home crowd cheering for Yul made for an exciting TV presence.

Team USA members Mark Lewis and Debbie McMullen at the Royal Bowling Center in Seoul.
AP Images.
On the women’s side, the United States was represented by Debbie McMullen, who worked at a bowling alley in Denver. McMullen averaged 189.72 during the round robin and placed seventh overall.  The complete round robin results for the women were as follows:

1. Arianne Cerdena, Philippines 2354
2. Annikki Maattola, Finland 2315
3. Atsuko Asai, Japan 2281
4. Jane Amlinger, Canada 2271
5. Mette Hermansen, Norway 2258
6. Gabriela Bigai, Venezuela 2158
7. Debbie McMullen, United States 2137
8. Kimberley Coote, England 2125
9. Annemiek (Dagelet) van den Boogaart, Netherlands 2116
10. Edda Piccini, Mexico 2105
11. Carol Gianotti, Australia 2103
12. Kyung-Mi Song, South Korea 1871

During the stepladder match, third seed Asai of Japan defeated Finland’s Maattola 209-187. In the next match, Asai defeated top seed Cerdena of the Philippines 198-180; however, due to the double elimination format the two were forced into a rematch with the winner taking the gold. Taking advice from her coach, Cerdena changed her line for the third game and defeated Asai 249-211, making Cerdena the only Filipino to ever win a gold medal at an Olympic event.

With the excitement of placing gold medals around the necks of a hometown hero and a first time winner, bowling provided a great storyline during the Olympics and the sport was optimistic about its future on the global stage.  However, as we all know, the sport has not made a return to the Games since. And don’t worry about the two American bowlers. Although they didn’t fare too well during the Olympics, both went on to successful bowling careers and are members of various halls of fame for their achievements, not to mention that they earned the privilege to represent their country during a unique part of bowling history.


  1. Please, I want to know about Gabriela Bigai in 1990 Youth games. Thanks.

  2. Do you know any information about Gabriela Bigai in Goodwill Game, Seattle 1990? Thanks.