‘Major Mika’ prevails in Japan Cup

by Bob Johnson 0

Finland native Mika Koivuniemi won his second Round1 Japan Cup and a $71,700 first prize at Round1 Stadium Diver City Tokyo Plaza Bowling Center with a 268-164 victory over Japan’s Yoshihiro Kaji, denying Kaji’s bid to become the first Japanese player to win the event in 24 years.

The 45-year-old Koivuniemi, wearing glasses for the first time in a championship round, started the title match with eight strikes before a 10-pin in the 9th frame ended his bid for a 300. The finals aired Sunday on ESPN.

“I got glasses about two years ago and started to practice with them, but I didn’t like them at all,” the Hartland, Mich., resident said. “I bowled a couple of games in the 180s with them on, so I took them off and shot a 300 game. After that, I didn’t even try them again in competition. I just wore them when I was driving at night.

“I told my wife I would start wearing them after I won my 10th title, but after I screwed up a couple of times during the World Series of Bowling, I decided to try them again and they felt okay. So I decided to test my luck, and I bowled with them on in Japan.

“It worked,” he added with a laugh.

Kaji started the title match with back-to-back open frames and never had a chance after that. Takeo Sakai (1988) and Ken Taniguchi (1985) are the only Japanese bowlers who have won the Japan Cup.

Koivuniemi made it into the championship match by winning a sudden death rolloff against reigning PBA Player of the Year Sean Rash of Montgomery, Ill., in one of the season’s most exciting matches. Rash converted the 2-10 split in the 9th frame and threw three strikes in the 10th to force Koivuniemi to mark in his 10th for the win.

Koivuniemi, however, left the 4-9 split and got one pin for a 223-223 tie. In the one-ball sudden-death rolloff, both players threw strikes on their first two shots, and both left a single pin on their third attempts, before Koivuniemi struck while Rash left a 9-pin on their fourth shots.

PLAYOFF RESULTS

Championship: Mika Koivuniemi, Finland ($71,700) def. Yoshihiro Kaji, Japan ($38,500), 268-164.

Semifinal Round (losers earned $17,900): Koivuniemi def. Sean Rash, Montgomery, Ill., 223-223, 10-10, 10-10, 9-9, 10-9; Kaji def. Osku Palermaa, Finland, 235-225.

Round of 8 (losers earned $9,000): Koivuniemi def. Yoshihiro Sakuraba, Japan, 228-171; Rash def. Parker Bohn III, Jackson, N.J., 223-202; Palermaa def. Takeshi Suda, Japan, 268-257; Kaji def. Wes Malott, Pflugerville, Texas, 226-213.

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.