Rio de Janeiro – Team USA bowlers and coaches came to the 2022 PANAM Bowling Champion of Champions tournament in Rio de Janeiro with three primary goals in mind.
The first was to finish high enough to qualify both the men’s and women’s teams for the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, the second was to win as many medals as possible, preferably gold, and the third was to help veteran Shannon O’Keefe end her Team USA career on a winning note.
After three days of competition and 96 games bowled, it’s safe to say mission accomplished.
Kris Prather of Romeoville, Illinois, and A.J. Johnson of Oswego, Illinois, used Thursday’s final eight-game singles block to make sure Team USA’s men earned the coveted Pan American Games bid.
Prather was locked in from the very first ball at the Bowling Social Club on Thursday morning, opening with 286, closing with 298 and shooting nothing lower than 213 en route to a block total of 1,978, which was good for a 247.25 average.
The big set allowed Prather to vault to the top of the standings and win gold in men’s singles with a 16-game total of 3,816 and men’s all-events with a 24-game total of 5,605.
Prather was Team USA’s most-decorated bowler at the Champion of Champions, winning gold medals in all three events in which he participated.
“Having those medals placed around my neck and hearing our national anthem play just gave me an overwhelming amount of joy,” Prather said. “I’m super proud of all the work we put in and what our team accomplished this week.
“Being able to stand up there and enjoy the little moments of happiness and relive the moments while you’re up there with a gold medal around your neck is just awesome.”
Brazil’s Bruno Costa was Prather’s closest pursuer; he finished in second place and took the silver medal in both singles (3,715) and all-events (5,547).
Johnson began Thursday’s final round two spots out of medal position in fifth place, but by the end of the day he moved back onto the podium.
Johnson’s final block got off to a strong start with the right-hander shooting 245 and 248 the first two games. After three more solid scores in Games 3, 4 and 5, Johnson went big in Game 6, firing a 267.
Things cooled down a bit during the last two games, but Johnson still came in with a final-round 1,858 (a 232.25 average), giving him 3,614 for the 16 games of singles and 5,535 for the 24 games of all-events.
Those scores were good enough to move Johnson into third place in both singles and all-events, allowing him to add a pair of bronze medals to the gold he won with Prather during doubles Tuesday.
“When we’re out there bowling, our focus is on each frame, each game, staying in the moment and controlling what we can control,” Johnson said. “But our goal is always to win, so to be standing on the podium at the end of the week wearing medals kind of puts into perspective how fortunate we are to get to do what we do.”
Johnson and Prather’s three-day, 48-game total of 11,140 put the duo in first place more than 750 pins ahead of Canadians Francois Lavoie and Jordan Jung, who earned the second Pan American Games bid with 10,377. Marcelo Suartz and Costa teamed up to help Brazil grab the final spot with 10,306.
The women’s competition was equally one-sided in favor of Team USA.
Shannon O’Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois, and Bryanna Coté of Tucson, Arizona, secured the women’s team a berth to the Pan American Games by cruising to first place with a three-day, 48-game total of 10,687.
Mexico’s Sandra Gongora and Paola Liemon finished second with 10,006. Brazil finished third and claimed the final advancing spot thanks to the 9,903 put up by Roberta Rodrigues and Stephanie Martins.
O’Keefe’s final day of Team USA competition ended the way so many others had over the course of her illustrious international career, with her standing on the podium receiving medals.
The 43-year-old right-hander won gold in women’s all-events with a three-day, 24-game total of 5,476 (a 228.17 average).
Colombia’s Clara Guerrero was O’Keefe’s closest pursuer; Guerrero finished second with 5,391 (a 224.63 average).
The roles were reversed in women’s singles, however, as Guerrero used a strong finish to slip past O’Keefe and capture gold with 3,559. O’Keefe was just behind, securing silver with 3,547.
Despite the narrow miss in singles, O’Keefe ended her Team USA career by winning two more gold medals, one silver and helping pave the way for other Team USA women to win medals of their own at next year’s Pan American Games.
Even though O’Keefe has stood upon many podiums and received many medals over the course of her Team USA career, it’s a feeling that meant just as much to her Thursday as it did the first time she got to experience it nearly two decades ago.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it, doing something that you love with USA on your back and your teammates around you never gets old,” O’Keefe said. “Winning medals and then hearing your national anthem play is just amazing. Outside of all my moments with my teammates, that’s what I’ll miss the most.”
Coté is one of those teammates, and she used Thursday’s final round to cap off a very successful Champion of Champions performance of her own.
The smooth-swinging right-hander broke 250 three times – 257 in Game 3; 259 in Game 4 and 253 in Game 6 – on the way to an eight-game total of 1,712 that allowed her to win the bronze medal in women’s singles with a 16-game total of 3,508 (a 219.25 average).
That effort allowed Coté to walk away with bronze in women’s all-events as well. She finished with a three-day, 24-game total of 5,211 (a 217.13 average).
“This week was extra special, and it makes me feel like all of the hard work paid off,” Coté said. “It was also surreal because normally I compete against Shannon (O’Keefe), so to get to team up with her the other day in doubles and help her win one of her last gold medals is something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”
One thing that most coaches cherish is success, and Team USA Head Coach Bryan O’Keefe enjoys that as much as anyone; therefore, he had very little to be unhappy about regarding the team’s performance at the Champion of Champions.
“Our performance this week was wonderful,” Bryan O’Keefe said. “You can’t control the outcome, but you can control the effort that you put into it. That’s all we really tried to hone in on all week.
“We wanted to control the things that we could control, and hopefully the outcome would follow. When you’re fortunate enough to have the best in the world in your corner, a lot of times it’s going to work out in your favor like it did this week.”
Things worked out in Team USA’s favor to the tune of 12 medals, the maximum number possible at the event, including seven gold, one silver and four bronze.
For more information on Team USA, visit BOWL.com/TeamUSA.
United States Bowling Congress
The United States Bowling Congress serves as the national governing body of bowling as recognized by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC). USBC conducts championship events nationwide including the largest participation sporting events in the world – the USBC Open and Women’s Championships – and professional events such as the USBC Masters and USBC Queens.
Founded in 1895, today USBC and its 1,519 state and local associations proudly serve more than a million members. USBC is headquartered in Arlington, Texas, working toward a future for the sport. The online home for USBC is BOWL.com.
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