The Two-handed Bowl and other Revolutionary Sports Techniques

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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MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
13 Secrets of Roller Derby
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

When sports promoter Leo Seltzer got the idea to organize a roller skating marathon in 1935, he probably didn’t expect that his event would provide the basis for a fledgling sport known as roller derby. Those early contests had skaters circling a track for thousands of miles over a period of a month to test their endurance; the current incarnation is more of a contact sport that involves players protecting—or blocking—a player known as a "jammer" who is trying to skate past the opposing team for points.

A popular sport through the 1950s and 1960s, derby briefly lost some of its luster when a bit of the theatricality usually found in pro wrestling made its way to the tracks to bolster television ratings in the 1970s. While today's derby still maintains some of that showmanship—players often compete under pseudonyms like H.P. Shovecraft—you’d be wrong to characterize its players as anything less than serious and determined athletes. Mental Floss asked several competitors about the game, the hazards of Velcro, and the etiquette of sending get-well cards to opponents with broken bones.

1. THERE’S A GOOD REASON THEY USE ALTER EGOS.

Derby players looking to erase the image of the scantily-clad events of the ‘70s sometimes bemoan the continued use of aliases, but there’s a practical reason for keeping that tradition going. According to Elektra-Q-Tion, a player in Raleigh, North Carolina, pseudonyms can help athletes remain safe from overzealous fans. “It’s kind of like being a C-level celebrity,” she says. “Some players can have stalkers. I have a couple of fans that can be a little aggressive. Using 'Elektra-Q-Tion' helps keep a separation there. If they know my real name, they can find out where I live or work.”

2. THEY CAN’T ALWAYS RECOGNIZE OTHER PLAYERS OFF THE TRACK.

For many players, derby is as much a social outlet as a physical one—but meetings outside of the track can sometimes be awkward. Because of the equipment and constant motion, it can be hard to register facial features for later reference. “You don’t really get the opportunity to see them move like a normal person,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. “People can identify me because I’m really tall, but if someone comes up and says we’ve played, I have to do that thing where I hold my hand up over their head [to mimic their helmet] and go, ‘Oh, it’s you.’”

3. THEY SUFFER FROM “DERBY FACE.”

Extreme concentration, core engagement, and other aspects of the game often conspire to make players somewhat less than photogenic. “'Derby face' is common,” says Barbie O’Havoc, a player from the J-Town Roller Girls in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. “You’re pretty focused on trying not to fall over or get beat up.”

4. THEY CAN KISS THEIR FEET GOODBYE.

Hours of practice in skates usually precedes an unfortunate fate for feet. “Your feet become pretty gross,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. “People sometimes say it’s because skates don’t fit right, but it can happen with custom skates. You get calluses, your toenails get worn and fall off, your bones shift, you get fallen arches. One time a doctor thought I had MRSA. He actually recoiled from my foot. I had a blister on my blister.”

5. THEY HAVE TO CONVINCE DOCTORS THEY’RE NOT BEING ABUSED.

Flying, crashing bodies skating at velocity will become heavily bruised, with players sporting black eyes and large-scale blemishes. If they need to seek medical attention when something is broken, those superficial marks often raise suspicion. “The first question people will ask is, ‘Are you okay?’” says Elektra-Q-Tion. “Once, my husband took me to the emergency room because I had broken my hand. The nurse asked him to leave the room and asked me, ‘Did he do this to you?’”

6. THEIR GEAR SMELLS PRETTY BAD.

“Derby stink is very much real,” says Barbie O’Havoc. “It comes down to body chemistry. Some players don’t have a problem. Others can wash their gear all the time and it still stinks. After I sold my car that I used to haul my gear in for years, my sister told me it smelled awful. The entire car.”

7. NO PLAYER WEARS A “1” JERSEY—AND FOR GOOD REASON.

Attend a derby bout and it’s unlikely you’ll see any player sporting a “1” on their jersey. “I've always heard you shouldn't use the number 1,” says Cyan Eyed, a player for Gem City Roller Derby in Ohio. “But not everyone is aware of the 1937 bus crash.” On March 24 of that year, a bus carrying 14 skaters and 9 support staff was driving from St. Louis to Cincinnati when it crashed, killing 21 passengers. Joe Kleats, a veteran player who was riding on the bus, wore the number; when he and the others died, the sport retired it in memory of the tragedy.

8. THEY HAVE SKATE MECHANICS.

The pounding endured by skates, wheels, and bearings often requires attention from someone versed in repair and maintenance work. Enter the skate mechanic, typically an official or significant other of a player who doubles as the team’s wheel-person. “Players are afraid of taking their expensive skates apart,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. But she'd prefer that skaters know how to care for their own wheels. “I don’t like the idea of someone not understanding how they work. What happens if the ref retires?”

9. VELCRO IS THEIR ENEMY.

Much of a derby player’s gear, such as knee and elbow pads, is held in place with Velcro, that useful-but-dangerous adhesion system. “The problem with Velcro is the close contact,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. “If people don’t have it on correctly or part of it is peeling off, they’ll scrape you with it and you won’t realize it until you’re in the shower later and the water hits it, which is a miserable feeling.”

10. THEY TRY TO BE POLITE EVEN AFTER SMASHING SOMEONE.

Injuries are expected in derby, but if you unwittingly broke someone’s nose, it’s considered polite track manners to check up on them later. “I remember seeing a nasty injury and our league sent her flowers and a card,” Barbie O’Havoc says.

11. THEY CAN WATCH OTHER TEAMS PRACTICE.

Good luck allowing members of an NFL team to drop in on an opposing team’s practice. Derby, which prides itself on a communal atmosphere, doesn’t mind opening its doors for visiting rivals. “If I go to, say, San Diego and ask to practice with the local team there, most of the time they would say yes,” Elektra-Q-Tion says.

12. A PENNY CAN SPELL DOOM.

It’s not often something as tiny as a coin can bring a sporting event to a complete halt, but that’s what happens when you’re dependent on skate mobility. Barbie O’Havoc says that although tracks are swept and cleaned before bouts, the odd foreign object can still pop up, causing wheels (and feet) to go flying. “There’s a washer on the toe stop that can fall off,” she says. “And I’ve seen people lose their wedding rings.” Pebbles and other tiny hazards will prompt a time-out until they're found and disposed of.

13. THEY DISLIKE HOLLYWOOD.

Whenever television crime dramas depict derby, it’s typically presented as a bunch of “bad girls” with sour attitudes and a thirst for blood on the track. “That seems to be very attractive to movie and television people,” Elektra-Q-Tion says. “Usually someone gets murdered.” 2009’s Whip It, a comedy-drama starring Ellen Page and directed by Drew Barrymore, didn’t fare much better in terms of believability—but players will give that one a pass. “Whip It was great press for us. That’s when we had most of our new audience and skaters come in.”

All images courtesy of Getty.

A version of this story ran in 2016.

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Shout! Factory
Original GLOW Wrestling Series Hits Twitch
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

When it premiered in June 2017, GLOW was a bit of a sleeper offering for Netflix. With the amount of original programming ordered by the streaming service, a show based on an obscure women’s pro wrestling league from the 1980s seemed destined to get lost in the shuffle.

Instead, the series was a critical and commercial success. Ahead of its second season, which drops on June 29, you'll have a chance to see the mat work of the original women who inspired it.

Shout! Factory has announced they will be live-streaming clips from the first four seasons of GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), which first premiered in 1986, beginning at 9 p.m. ET on June 28. The stream, which will be available on shoutfactorytv.com and Twitch, will feature original footage framed by new interviews with personalities including Godiva, host Johnny C, and Hollywood. The show will air live from the Santino Brothers Wrestling Academy in Los Angeles.

Godiva, who was portrayed by Dawn Maestas, inspired the character Rhonda (a.k.a. Brittanica) on the Netflix series; Hollywood was the alter ego of Jeanne Basone, who inspired the character Cherry in the fictionalized version of the league. Basone later posed for Playboy and takes bookings for one-on-one wrestling matches with fans.

Shout! Factory's site also features a full-length compilation of footage, Brawlin’ Beauties: GLOW, hosted by onetime WWE interviewer “Mean” Gene Okerlund.

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