BY BOB JOHNSON, BJI Senior Editor
Mika Koivuniemi stands with his arms folded, his body facing the pins. But he is not trying to figure out why he left a 10-pin on what seemed like a perfectly executed delivery. Instead, he is watching Hind Al Hammadi as she prepares to deliver her first shot in the 51st QubicaAMF World Cup.
Al Hammadi is wearing a sheer black hijab, folded and then draped over her right shoulder. It covers the top of her head, but not her beaming smile.
The smile turns to a frown, however, as her first shot goes wide… very wide… and picks off only the 6-, 9- and 10-pins. But a moment later it returns, as Al Hammadi places her spare shot where she wanted to place her strike shot, clearing the deck of the seven remaining pins.
Koivuniemi, wearing black-rimmed glasses, then takes a seat and cups his chin in his right hand. One senses that he would like to be making the shots rather than watching them. Instead, he claps as Al Hammadi fills the early frames of the game, listens as she talks to him, and occasionally speaks a few words to her.
Koivuniemi has always been a man of few words, especially when speaking English, which is not the official language of his native Finland. It is a trait he’s working on now that he is segueing from a highly successful career as a player into a new career as an international coach.
How is it going so far?
“Good,” he says,
How does he like living in the UAE?
“It’s nice,” he says.
Has he made the move completely from Hartland, Mich., his adopted home after leaving Finland to bowl on the PBA Tour full time?
Then he clarifies: “My wife and daughter are still there. We’re still trying to sell our house.”
Why did Koivuniemi decide to take the job?
“The timing was good.”
He no longer is as young as he once was, which makes bowling in high-level competition more of a challenge — although you never would have known it by his recent 15th-place finish in the Bowlmor AMF U.S. Open in suburban Dallas.
Plus, the PBA “non-Tour” of the twenty-teens can be challenging for an older player, as events such as the World Series of Bowling require a significant number of games to be bowled in an abbreviated period of time. That made the coaching offer from the UAE all the more attractive.
Al Hammadi completes her first game, a 160. She gathers her equipment, and Koivuniemi helps transport it 19 pairs to the right for game number two. “Valet” may not be an official part of the job description, but it’s definitely part of the job.
Al Hammadi will have a long climb if she is to challenge for a spot among the 24 women who will advance to match play after 24 games. She finished with an eight-game total of 1276, which put her in 61st place among the 71 women entered. It is now Koivuniemi’s job not only to tutor her with lane play and equipment suggestions, but to make sure she maintains a level of confidence she needs to be competitive.
In the past, as a bowler, Koivuniemi needed to be concerned only with himself. Now, as the coach of a national team, he must manage the games and psyches of multiple players.
Does he feel he is up to the task?
His answer is quintessential Koivuniemi: “Yes.”
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All contestants are bowling eight games per day Sunday, Monday and Tuesday — a total of 24 games — before each field is cut to the top 24 players. That will be followed by an additional qualifying round and a match play round, after which three bowlers in each field will advance to a stepladder final round featuring best-of-three matches. Bowlers Journal will have full coverage of the event here on bowlersjournal.com and feature coverage in the January issue of the magazine. For regularly updated tournament standings and more, click here.