LAS VEGAS - Colombia's Maria José Rodriguez entered the 2019 World Bowling Women's Championships with her sights set on the first gold medal of her career at the event.
The 30-year-old right-hander threw clutch shots all week when she needed them, and she earned the gold medal she coveted. Then another.
Though she came up short in the tournament-ending Masters competition, falling to Singapore left-hander Cherie Tan, 2-0 (203-201, 258-217), in the title match, she'll leave the South Point Bowling Plaza with five medals - gold in all-events and team, silver in trios and the Masters and a bronze medal in doubles.
Rodriguez attributes her success this week to learning from all of the close calls and mistakes she has experienced in her career, including not throwing the shots when she needed them earlier in the 2019 World Women's Championships.
It may not have seemed so at the time, but missing the cut to the singles semifinals by three pins may have been the best thing that could've happened the two-time Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour titlist.
"I think I was able to come through later in the week because I didn't do it in singles, if that makes sense," said Rodriguez, who has participated in seven World Championships. "In singles, I tied up, I was shaking and it reminded me of when I did the same thing two years ago. Then, in doubles and trios and team, I didn't do that. I forced myself to learn from it."
In Friday's team final, Rodriguez threw one of the most memorable shots of her career, striking in her final frame to lift the Colombia women to their first team gold medal in World Bowling World Championships competition.
Colombia and Sweden went the distance in the best-of-three Baker final at the South Point Bowling Plaza, and while Rodriguez's strike sealed the win, spare shooting actually decided the outcome of Colombia's 2-1 victory.
Early in the finale, Swedish sisters Cajsa and Jenny Wegner missed 2 pins in consecutive frames. Despite the miscues, Sweden rallied and managed to grab a two-pin lead heading into the final frame, putting the decision in the hands of the talented anchors - Rodriguez and fellow PWBA Tour champion Sandra Andersson.
After Andersson rung a 10 pin on her first shot, Rodriguez stepped up and delivered for a 222-202 victory.
"When I was in the team event and needed to strike, everything was shaking, probably even my eyelashes, but I thought about the shot I threw at the end of singles and refused to do it again," Rodriguez said. "This is what we train for, and it was amazing to see the hard work finally pay off. For it to happen in the team event means so much. We all have worked so hard, and it's incredible to make history for our country."
The rest of the three-game final match was equally interesting.
Sweden had a chance to win the opening game after Rodriguez left, and missed, a washout in the 10th frame. Andersson needed a strike on her fill ball but left the 2-8 combination to fall short, 205-204.
Game 2 featured an uncharacteristic mistake from Colombia's Laura Plazas, who missed a 1-2-4 combination. Sweden tossed four consecutive strikes starting in the sixth frame and came away with a 235-220 win.
Both of Colombia's wins in the championship match came on the left lane, which gave all four teams trouble during the team medal round.
Rodriguez and Plazas were joined in the win by Clara Guerrero, Rocio Restrepo, Juliana Franco and Anggie Ramirez Perea.
The team's previous best finish in the team event was a silver medal in 1999. They also earned bronze medals in 2003, 2011 and in Las Vegas in 2017.
Friday's team win was a bit of redemption for Thursday's doubles event, where Colombia qualified two teams for the medal round but failed to advance to the gold-medal match.
"To be honest, I'm a little shocked," Restrepo said. "Yesterday, I bowled 12 really good shots, and it didn't happen. Today, I did the same and I'm probably going to be super drained because it's so much emotion. I was shaking. At one point I thought I was going to faint after striking. But I was like, you have to keep it together."
Sweden's roster also include Joline Persson Planefors and Josefin Hermansson. On Thursday, Wegner and Hermansson won the doubles event for Sweden's first medal since 2009 and first gold medal since 2007.
Colombia, the No. 4 qualifier, was the only team able to conquer the left lane during the team semifinals, and it helped the quintet to a 2-1 victory over top-seeded Team USA.
The qualifying leaders started on the right lane and rolled to a 239-182 victory, before falling victim to the challenging left lane on the way to a four-strike, four-open 222-154 loss.
An early 7-10 split from Missy Parkin put the United States behind early in the deciding game, but the team battled back, giving anchor Shannon O'Keefe a chance to throw a double for the win. Her first offering resulted in another 7-10, however, ending Team USA's bid for a third team gold medal since 2011 by a score of 225-211.
The match featured nine PWBA champions among the 12 players - Stefanie Johnson, Liz Kuhlkin, Danielle McEwan, O'Keefe, Parkin and Jordan Richard for the United States and Guerrero, Restrepo and Rodriguez for Colombia.
It was the second consecutive heartbreaking finish for Team USA at the South Point Bowling Plaza.
At the 2017 combined World Championships, the United States, the defending champion, missed the medal round by two pins. This time, Team USA tied the six-game qualifying record and led No. 2 seed Mexico by 379 pins, before the format changed to the knockout-style Baker matches.
Team USA was looking to become the first No. 1 seed of the week to finish the job and win the gold medal.
"It's pretty disappointing to lead by almost 400 pins and have it all come down to that one shot," Team USA head coach Rod Ross said. "We just got a couple of bad breaks with the 7-10, and if either of those fall and we get a spare, we're in that final match. This one's going to sting for a while. I'm heartbroken for the girls because they work so hard and put everything on the line."
In the first team semifinal, the left lane proved to be the difference, as all three win in the match came on the right lane. Sweden topped Mexico, 2-1 (223-192, 183-244, 212-188).
The deciding game came down to the final frame.
Three strikes from Mexico anchor Iliana Lomeli would've sent her team to the final, but she left the 3-6-9-10 combination on her first shot. Andersson had just delivered a strike for Sweden, and that ended up being more than enough to seal the win.
Mexico was represented in the team event by Sandra Gongora, Paola Limon, Iliana Lomeli, Adriana Perez, Lilia Robles and Aseret Zetter.
As the tournament wound down, Rodriguez, Tan, Team USA's Danielle McEwan and Sanna Pasanen of Finland took the lanes for the conclusion of the Masters event.
In the first best-of-three semifinal, Tan topped McEwan, 2-1 (165-212, 236-184, 244-213), and then Rodriguez again delivered in the final frame, striking to sneak past Pasanen, 2-1 (223-232, 257-221, 216-210).
The Masters final was the only match of the day that didn't go three games. Tan claimed Singapore's second gold medal in World Championships competition, 2-0 (203-201, 258-217).
"It means everything because everyone works so hard to come here and try to win," Tan said. "I've been trying for so many years and came close so many times. It's really something. The pressure is high, but we have been coming close for almost 10 years now. It feels really great to bring home a gold for Singapore."
Shayna Ng won Singapore's first gold medal in all-events at the 2015 event in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
The 2019 World Women's Championships started with 176 competitors from 34 countries, who competed for medals in singles, doubles, trios, team, all-events and Masters competition. All games were contested on the 39-foot World Bowling Seoul oil pattern.
The 34 countries that participated this year were: Australia, Bahamas, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Guam, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, United States, Ukraine and Venezuela.
Team USA and Colombia topped the medal table this week with six medals apiece. Sweden claimed four, Korea had three, Mexico earned two and Singapore and Finland took home one each.
McEwan was the top performer for Team USA, winning gold in singles and bronze medals in team and Masters. If she would've won the Masters event, she would've become the first woman in tournament history with a gold medal in each discipline.
O'Keefe also earned three medals this week - silver in singles and bronze medals in team and all-events - while Parkin, Richard and Kuhlkin came through to successfully defend Team USA's trios title. The three, plus Johnson, also received bronze medals for their team finish.
"We changed up how we approached this event with the six players who were here, both prior to coming and once we were here, and I think it led to some huge improvements and was the reason for our success in qualifying," said McEwan, a five-time world champion. "Overall, we worked so well together this week, and I'm incredibly proud of how we did."
Las Vegas and South Point also hosted the World Championships in 2017. That was a combined event featuring men and women - something that happens every four years.
For more information on the 2019 World Women's Championships, visit WorldBowling.org.
For more information on Team USA, visit BOWL.com/TeamUSA.
2019 WORLD BOWLING WOMEN'S CHAMPIONSHIPS
South Point Bowling Plaza
(Winner earns gold, loser gets silver)
Colombia def. Sweden, 2-1 (205-204, 220-235, 222-202)
(Winners advance, losers each earn bronze)
Colombia def. United States, 2-1 (182-239, 222-154, 225-211)
Sweden def. Mexico, 2-1 (223-192, 183-244, 212-188)
(Winner earns gold, loser gets silver)
Cherie Tan, Singapore, def. Maria José Rodriguez, Colombia, 2-0 (203-201, 258-217)
(Winners advance, losers each earn bronze)
Rodriguez def. Sanna Pasanen, Finland, 2-1 (223-232, 257-221, 216-210)
Tan def. Danielle McEwan, United States, 2-1 (165-212, 236-184, 244-213)