The Two-handed Bowl and other Revolutionary Sports Techniques

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We'll always remember the first time we saw sports' greatest stars pull off their signature tricks, like Michael Jordan dunking or Wayne Gretzky making a seemingly impossible shot. However, titans like these might not be the most important figures in their respective histories. Other innovators may have come up with techniques that irrevocably changed the way their games are played while receiving little fanfare. This weekend, professional bowling saw a bit revolution of its own when Jason Belmonte became the first two-handed bowler ever to win a Professional Bowlers Association championship. To honor this achievement, let's take a look at Belmonte's offbeat technique and those of a few other innovators who changed their sports:

1. Jason Belmonte, Bowling Radical

Unless you're epically walk-up-to-the-line-and-two-handed-roll-between-your-legs bad at bowling, your approach to the game probably resembles the techniques the pros use. You hook your thumb and ring and middle fingers in the ball, kick your back leg behind you, and send the ball on its way. The ball may end up in the gutter, but it looks like bowling. One pro, though, deviates from this formula. Jason Belmonte, a 25-year-old Australian, has a form that's all his own. For starters, he eschews using his thumb and only puts two fingers in the ball. That's not the odd part, though. The truly unique aspect of his technique is that Belmonte uses both arms to roll the ball. He makes his approach with the ball tucked back off of his right hip then slings it two-handed towards the pins. The technique is as effective as it is bizarre to watch. According a recent story in The Boston Globe, Belmonte's two-handed roll makes the ball spin at 630 rpm, whereas most pros can only get up to 400 rpm. The extra spins result in the ball hitting the pins more forcefully. The added oomph translates into higher scores. Belmonte averages a 230, and he's got 34 perfect games to his credit. If you want to see the trick in action, check out Belmonte rolling a 300:

2. Erich Windisch, Hands Down Our Favorite Ski Jumper

sp skiing1.jpgIn 1949, German ski jumper Erich Windisch was probably feeling pretty glum. He had a big tournament coming up, but he was suffering from a dislocated shoulder. The injury meant that he couldn't throw his arms out in front of him Superman-style during his jumps without agonizing pain or potentially making the shoulder worse. Stripped of his ability to achieve the conventional pose, Windisch would likely be drubbed at the tournament. Nevertheless, Windisch entered the tournament, albeit with a tweak in his form. Instead of holding his arms in front of his body for balance, he tucked them down at his sides. It looked funny, but it worked. Windisch's modified position turned out to be much more aerodynamic than the standard jumping pose, and he jumped further than the rest of the field. After this triumph, the "Windisch technique" became the dominant jumping technique until 1985.

3. Dick Fosbury, Unrepentant Flopper

sp fosbury1.jpgBefore Dick Fosbury came along, the high jump wasn't so efficient. Jumpers usually employed a straddle technique where they took to the air, then put their feet over the bar. In 1968, though, Fosbury started to generate some national buzz while jumping for the Oregon State track team. His unusual technique, dubbed "the Fosbury flop," involved a running approach before spinning and going over the bar back first. The invention was part inspiration, part necessity; using the conventional technique, Fosbury couldn't even clear a six-foot bar. While the flop looked odd to observers who were used to the straddle technique, it was undeniably effective. In 1968 Fosbury cleared 7'2 ¼" to win the NCAA championship before soaring 7'1" to win the U.S. Olympic Trials. At the Mexico City Olympics later that summer, Fosbury cleared 2.24 meters to take the gold, and the world got its first look at the new technique. Now nearly every high jumper uses the Fosbury flop. Interestingly, Fosbury may not have been the first to employ the flop that bears his name. According to the International Olympic Committee, a Montana high jumper named Bruce Quande was clearing bars using a flop in photographs that date back to 1963. It was Fosbury, though, who won the Olympic gold and popularized the technique throughout the world.

4. Parry O'Brien, Nice Shot

sp shot .jpgMost of us would probably be happy just to throw a 16-pound ball without pulling a muscle. Former football player Parry O'Brien was a bit more ambitious, though. After quitting the USC football team following a vicious kick to the gut, O'Brien took up the shotput. The dominant technique of the time, which involved rearing back on one leg then lunging forward as you threw the ball, seemed inefficient to O'Brien. Using a little bit of his knowledge of physics, he started dabbling with a new strategy in which he started his throw facing the back of the circle, then spun forward as he launched the shot. The spin gave the toss some extra momentum, and the results were incredible. He set an Olympic record at the 1952 Helsinki Games with a 57' 1 ¼" toss en route to winning a gold, then defended his medal in 1956 and added a silver in 1960. At one point, the spinning throw put O'Brien on a 116-competition winning streak and helped him break the world record 16 times. Now, the "O'Brien glide" is one of the two dominant shotput throwing techniques.

5. Pete Gogolak, Placekicking Revolutionary

sp GogolakLamonica.jpgWatching old football tapes can be a little disorienting. The game is fundamentally similar, but the details aren't quite the same. Take placekicking. Before Pete Gogolak came along, kickers stood directly behind the holder, ran straight up to the ball, and booted it with their toes. Gogolak, a Hungarian immigrant, came up with a new technique while in high school in Ogdensburg, New York. He stood off to one side of the ball when he lined up, then took an angled approach and struck the ball with his instep. At first, he had trouble elevating the ball, but once he mastered the technique, Gogolak's "soccer style" kick was unbeatable. After a successful college career at Cornell, he took the strange kick to the AFL's Buffalo Bills, and he later became the first notable player to jump ship from the AFL to the rival NFL when he signed with the New York Giants. Gogolak still holds the Giants' career scoring record with 646 points, and today it's nearly impossible to find a kicker who doesn't use the soccer style.

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March 31, 2009 - 5:41am
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