BY BOB JOHNSON, BJI Senior Editor
She is one of the most decorated athletes in all of sports. She has won a total of 79 medals — including 37 golds — in recognized Asian Zone and World Bowling competition.
She is not bowling in the 51st QubicaAMF World Cup, but she is avidly watching the two bowlers from her home country, Liza del Rosario and Biboy Rivera.
She is Philippines bowling legend Bong Coo, who won the 1979 World Cup in Bangkok, Thailand.
So what is she doing in Las Vegas this week, 36 years after she won the title that changed her life?
“Liza and Biboy are friends of mine,” she says. “Plus, I thought it might be a chance to see some old friends.”
That the 1979 World Cup victory — achieved with a three-game championship match score of 645, using a Roto Grip rubber ball — changed her life is no mere hyperbole. By law, any Philippines athlete who wins a recognized world championship receives 2.5 million pesos. Coo says she invested most of her windfall in her sports apparel business, The Bowler International, which is still going strong today. In fact, the uniforms of the Philippines bowlers were provided by Coo’s company.
Today, Coo still bowls, but only for fun and exercise in two leagues per week. But she’s also on the lanes quite often throughout the school year as a physical education teacher at the University of the Philippines in Manila.
“I also have a few [younger] bowlers under my wing, and I’m hoping they will be selected to compete in the World Youth Championships,” to be held next July in Lincoln, Neb. “If that happens, I will be there.”
Coo is considered a true legend among Philippines athletes, but her career would not have happened had she not gotten married too young and to the wrong man.
“I married when I was 17, and got divorced when I was 21,” she says. “Bowling was therapy after my divorce.”
She practiced and practiced and practiced some more, until she was good enough to compete — and win — on the global stage.
“Had I waited to get married, and married the right man, I probably would have been a housewife,” Coo reflects.
After a pause, she adds: “I never re-married. You might say I married bowling.”
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Bong Coo is one of four past champions in attendance this week who are not competing. The others are Australians Jeanette Baker (the first to win back-to-back titles, in 1982 and 1983) and Amanda Bradley (1999), and Peter Ljung of Sweden, who won in 1986 and is coaching the Swedish contingent in Las Vegas.
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