ARLINGTON, Texas - Though the formats may be a little different in 2021, Team USA's goal for the upcoming International Bowling Federation Super World Championships is unchanged, and that is to win as many medals as possible against the best bowlers in the world.
Eight members of the team are hours away from departing for Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where competitors from dozens of countries will meet to compete for medals in singles, doubles, trios, mixed team and team competition.
The IBF Super World Championships will be the first of three events being held at the Dubai International Bowling Centre, taking place from Nov. 6-15, and it will be followed by the inaugural IBF Para Bowling World Championships and the IBF Masters (formerly Senior) World Championships.
The list of women selected to represent the United States at the Super World Championships includes a quartet of world champions - Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey; Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York; Missy Parkin of Laguna Hills, California; and Jordan Richard of Maumee, Ohio.
Kulick picked up the first of her five titles at the event in 1999, while McEwan is the defending singles champion. Parkin and Richard will look to defend the trios crown they claimed in 2019 with Liz Kuhlkin.
The men's team will include three world champions and a first-timer - Andrew Anderson of Holly, Michigan; Jakob Butturff of Tempe, Arizona; AJ Johnson of Oswego, Illinois; and Kristopher Prather of Plainfield, Illinois.
Butturff and Johnson helped Team USA to the team gold medal at the 2017 World Championships, and Anderson was a trios gold medalist at the 2018 World Men's Championships.
Prather made his Team USA debut at the recent PANAM Bowling Elite Championships in Colombia and picked up a pair of medals, including gold in the team event. Anderson also was one of the six Team USA men in Colombia.
"It's always an honor to bowl with the USA on your back, and even though I didn't have the best week in Colombia, it was really cool to be a part of the team gold medal and see the other guys do so well, especially the ones getting to experience it for the first time," Anderson said. "Now, we're going to shift gears and make the 15-hour flight to Dubai for the World Championships. Even though the stage may be different, the goal is the same, and that is to win the team gold medal, along with as many medals as possible along the way."
The Team USA men had a heartbreaking loss to Italy in the gold-medal match at the 2018 World Men's Championships, but it was as much a learning opportunity for Anderson as his trios win with EJ Tackett and Kyle Troup.
All three were first-timers at the event, which is noteworthy and memorable on its own, but they also had the chance to share the lanes with two of the most decorated bowlers in Team USA history. Anderson hopes he can use all the things he learned there to help Team USA find success in 2021.
"Thankfully, my first trip to the World Championships came alongside two of the greatest players in our sport or country - Tommy Jones and Chris Barnes," said Anderson, the 2018 Professional Bowlers Association Player of the Year. "I was able to learn a lot from them, and I hope to use that experience to help lead the Dubai team to more success for Team USA."
As part of the new design of the event, team competition will shift from five players to four, while everything after the tournament-opening singles event will be contested using a variation of Baker scoring.
In the traditional Baker format, each member of a five-player team bowls two frames, and the team members work together to complete a game. The leadoff bowler bowls the first and sixth frames, the next team member completes the second and seventh frames and so on.
In Dubai, the concept will be adapted for doubles, trios and the two team events, with strategy determining which players in the lineup will bowl extra frames, where applicable.
"More than anything, we're just looking forward to being back on the lanes and competing against the best bowlers from across the globe," Team USA head coach Bryan O'Keefe said. "It may take a little time to get used to the changes, but we expect the new formats and pace of competition to up the intensity and excitement for the bowlers and fans. There also will be a lot more strategy involved in setting the lineups, and that will be a fun challenge."
In recent years at the IBF World Championships, six games of total pinfall determined the four players or teams that advanced to the semifinals in each event, where they were seeded into a bracket-style championship round. Semifinal losers earned bronze medals, and the winners advanced to bowl for the gold and silver medals.
Prior to that, medals were awarded based on total pinfall.
Since the inception of the World Championships in the 1950s, formats have changed, and there even was a time when the team event included as many as eight bowlers, but many aspects of the event are timeless.
The pressure, pride and prestige involved in competing for your country are unparalleled. Kulick expects to feel some of the same excitement she felt in 1999 during the first of her six appearances at the World Championships.
Her debut came just over an hour away in Abu Dhabi, and she left that event with a singles gold medal, the lone gold for the United States that year. Her return to Abu Dhabi in 2015 ended with gold medals in doubles and team.
"I recall the 1999 event very vividly because we were going to be in Abu Dhabi for three weeks, it was over Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday, there were some big life pieces that needed to move around to make it work and it was my first opportunity as an adult representative of Team USA to experience bowling on the world stage," Kulick said. "It definitely was a highlight for me before starting my professional career, and any chance to be back in that environment is special."
Official practice for the 2021 Super World Championships will take place Thursday and Friday, with singles competition getting underway Saturday.
Singles will consist of 10 qualifying games over two days, after which the field in each gender classification will be cut to the top 32 for group match play. Each group will include eight players, and they'll all bowl seven games of round-robin match play.
Points will be awarded for each win in match play, and the top two players in each group, based on points, will advance to the bracket-style quarterfinals. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be one-game matches, and the championship match will be a best-of-two battle, with a ninth- and 10th-frame roll-off being used if a third game is needed.
Doubles, trios and team competition will be contested similarly, but utilizing a variation of the Baker format. The top 32 in doubles and top 16 for trios and both team competitions will advance to match play.
Along with Team USA's singles and trios wins at the 2019 World Women's Championships in Las Vegas, Sweden won doubles, Colombia won team and all-events and Singapore won the tournament-ending Masters event.
The rest of the medals at the World Men's Championships in Hong Kong went to Malaysia (singles, doubles), all-events (United States) and Masters (Canada).
Competitors at the 2021 Super World Championships will face a 44-foot IBF Emirates 21 oil pattern.
"We recently had a short training camp to get ready for this event, and all of the team members have been staying sharp at other tournaments, whether it was locally, in Colombia or on the (Professional Women's Bowling Association) Tour in Reno (Nevada)," O'Keefe said. "I know we're ready to compete at this level again, and our time together really helped with the chemistry and trust. We're really looking forward to every aspect of the World Championships."
Team USA representatives for the Para Bowling World Championships will be Eddy Hutchens of Franktown, Colorado; Shawn Beam of Burleson, Texas; Emma (Toodie) Perry of Bakersfield, California; and Debra Freed of Framingham, Massachusetts. They will compete for medals in singles, doubles and mixed team.
Representing Team USA on the men's side at the IBF Masters World Championships will be Barnes, who is from Denton, Texas; Parker Bohn III of Jackson, New Jersey; Tom Hess of Granger, Iowa; and Bob Learn Jr. of Columbia, Tennessee.
The women's roster will include Debbie Ayers of La Mesa, California; Tracy Calfee of Flat Rock, North Carolina; Tish Johnson of Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Sharon Powers of Lakewood, Colorado.
Medals at the Masters World Championships will be awarded for singles, doubles, team, mixed team and most valuable athlete/federation.