SHANGHAI - Just a few months ago, Lisa John was ready to accept a quiet end to a long and successful international bowling career after finishing short in her bid to represent England at the QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup for the third time.
Known to shy away from the spotlight, word of her stepping away from the game was little more than an announcement on social media.
Then, she got an unexpected second chance to wear her country's colors one more time, when a prior bowling commitment left her teammate Danni Hopcroft unable to make the trip to China this week. However, John's performance at the 2016 QubicaAMF World Cup has been anything but under-the-radar.
The 35-year-old right-hander has taken full advantage of the opportunity to return to the lanes and leads the field of 63 women through two rounds of qualifying at Hao's Bowling.
John needed just two games Tuesday to sneak past opening-round leader Danielle McEwan of the United States and used the highest block of the day (1,166) to build a 70-pin lead at the halfway point of qualifying.
The 19-time member of Team England ended the first day of qualifying with a 277 game and continued that momentum Tuesday, averaging more than 233 on the way to a 10-game total of 2,292, an overall average of 229.2.
Reigning United States Bowling Congress Queens champion Bernice Lim of Singapore, who owns the highest game of the tournament (290) is second in the women's standings with a 2,222 total and is followed by Australia's Rebecca Whiting (2,161), McEwan (2,155) and Nadine Geissler of the Germany (2,132).
"I'm not a showy person and don't like a lot of fuss, so after finishing second at our World Cup qualifier, I really was OK with quietly retiring," said John, the runner-up to Team USA's Diandra Asbaty at the 2006 World Cup in Caracas, Venezuela. "It's great to be back at this tournament, though. It's definitely one of my favorite events because of the atmosphere and how friendly it is."
Despite her early success this week in Shanghai, John is experienced enough to remain humble and focused, knowing that even the thought of hoisting the World Cup still should be days away at the earliest, due to the tournament's marathon format.
For the men, the scoring pace slowed during Tuesday's second round at Hao's Bowling, but Russia's Yan Korshak was able to maintain his spot atop the standings for the second consecutive day.
The right-hander finished the day with a 10-game total of 2,178, a 217.8 average, and holds a 26-pin lead over Sweden's Martin Larsen, who closed Tuesday's round with a 223 game to surge into second place at the halfway point in qualifying with a 2,152 total.
Team USA's Marshall Kent (2,145) and Australia's Sam Cooley (2,133) both struggled in their final games but sit third and fourth, respectively. China's Wang Hongbo is looking to become the second bowler in QubicaAMF World Cup history to win on his home soil and is fifth with a 2,101 total.
Kent had a roller coaster of a day with three games over 230 and two under 180 but moved up two spots in the standings, relying on his versatility to navigate the event's 42-foot oil pattern.
"I tried some different hand positions today I thought might work based on yesterday, and I even tried lofting it, too," said Kent, the runner-up at the 2012 World Cup. "I've learned a lot in the last four years, including some tricks and mental keys, and I learned more today about this pattern and bowling center as we moved from pair to pair and jumped from one bay to the other."
Hao's Bowling is split into two 12-lane sections, and as the bowlers repeatedly cross the center during the four days of qualifying, each time they see a pair of lanes is an opportunity to recognize tendencies and take notes that could help later in the event.
Many competitors compare bowling to a puzzle, and quickly identifying all the pieces is crucial, especially in a long event with pinfall that carries over.
"I definitely need to be better at identifying the tough pairs and knowing when I should be trying to grind out 200, rather than trying to shoot 250," Kent said. "It's about minimizing mistakes when you don't have the best look and taking advantage of the times when you do. The puzzle may change a little from day to day, but I have to focus on the big picture and be quicker with my decisions the rest of the way."
Competition at Hao's Bowling in downtown Shanghai's Luwan Sports Complex continues Wednesday with five more games for all 144 competitors. The field includes 81 men and 63 women, representing 84 countries.
Qualifying at the 2016 QubicaAMF World Cup will take place over four days, and this year's winners will be determined Oct. 22.
After 20 games (five games each day), the field will be cut to the top 24 men and top 24 women for eight additional games. Total pinfall for 28 games will narrow the field to eight bowlers in each division for eight games of round-robin match play.
The top four men and top four women after 36 games, including bonus pins, will advance to the new knockout-style semifinals, where the No. 1 seed will face the No. 4 qualifier and No. 2 and No. 3 will do battle. The winners of each match will earn a spot in the championship game.
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