CALI, Colombia - Team USA's Sean Rash said he's never been to South America, and his first visit included a dramatic entrance as he arrived with minutes to spare before his singles squad Monday at the 2016 Pan American Bowling Confederation Adult Championships.
After a day of travel that lasted more than 14 hours and landed him in three countries, Rash finally made it to Bolera Departamental. He quickly put on his bowling shoes, took a deep breath and averaged 247 over six games to win the singles gold medal with a record score of 1,482.
The 34-year-old right-hander fired bookend 289 games to outdistance fellow Team USA member John Szczerbinski, who shot 1,475 a squad earlier, and hold off Colombian teammates Manuel Otalora and Andres Gomez, who both had a shot at the lead going into the final frames.
Gomez started the block with the second perfect game of the event and was the front-runner going into the finale, before being derailed by a pair of splits late in the game.
Rash had the most ground to make up and then needed two strikes and three pins in his final frame to pass Szczerbinski and lock out Otalora, who held on for the bronze medal with a 1,466 total. Opening-squad leader Marshall Kent of the United States fell three pins short of a medal (1,463) and Gomez dropped to fifth with 1,454.
"I walked in at about 6:25, was taped up and ready to bowl at 6:40 and things got started shortly after," said Rash, who rescheduled his flights to Colombia after qualifying for two TV shows at the Professional Bowlers Association Fall Swing last week in the Detroit area. "We knew it was going to be close. If I made it, I made it. If not, I'd be here and ready for doubles. Luckily, it all worked out."
The men's singles record at the PABCON Championships previously belonged to Team USA's Bill O'Neill, rolled at the 2009 event in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was matched by Szczerbinski on Monday with three strikes in his final frame.
While traveling, Rash kept up with the scores from the first two squads, and his Team USA teammates provided as much info as they could about the bowling center and 44-foot London oil pattern being used this week.
Szczerbinski also qualified for one of the TV shows at the PBA Fall Swing and missed Sunday's official practice session, but the confidence and momentum from making his first domestic championship-round appearance really helped keep his armswing loose Mondayduring singles.
"I'm confident, and I feel like I'm throwing the ball really well right now, but the info from the rest of the guys and the extra eyes behind me were pretty big factors today," Szczerbinski said. "It's nice to be off to such a great start here, both personally and as a team."
Rash, an eight-time Team USA member, knows how important the hot start can be in reaching their primary goals for the week.
"It means a lot to win today, but I'm even more proud of how well we bowled as a team, with all six guys finishing in the top 13," Rash said. "Our main goal is to win the team gold. It was pretty disappointing not to win it last time (2015), but Colombia bowled great and deserved it. We're motivated this year, though, and we have the early momentum. Hopefully, we can carry that into the rest of the week."
Competition continues Tuesday with three squads of doubles, beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern.
The pairings for Team USA are AJ Chapman and Szczerbinski, Rash and Rob Gotchall and Kent and Ronnie Russell closing out the day.
Russell finished eighth in singles Monday with a 1,401 total, Chapman was 10th with 1,373 and Gotchall finished 13th with 1,356.
The singles medal ceremony will take place Wednesday afternoon at Bolera Departamental.
The 2016 PABCON Adult Championships includes more than a dozen countries, with more on the line than just gold medals.
The top eight men's teams and top eight women's teams will qualify for the combined 2017 World Championships in Kuwait. This will be determined by a combined total pinfall from the following categories in each division - top four singles scores, top two doubles scores, top trios set and pinfall in team competition.
The top two countries will qualify for the World Games, which is held every fourth year and next will be contested in Wroclaw, Poland, in July 2017. This will be a combined pinfall total for the top two men and top two women for each country during the 24 games at the PABCON event.
The United States, Venezuela and Colombia previously qualified for the 2017 World Games through the PABCON Champion of Champions event in Mexico last April.
The women hit the lanes at Bolera Departamental starting next Monday.
Visit BOWL.com/TeamUSA for more information on the Team USA program.
For complete scores from the PABCON Adult Championships, visit Pabcon.org.
2016 PABCON ADULT CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Bolera Departamental, Cali, Colombia
GOLD - Sean Rash, United States, 1,482
SILVER - John Szczerbinski, United States, 1,475
BRONZE - Manuel Otalora, Colombia, 1,466