ARLINGTON, Texas – When the United States Bowling Congress Team USA Trials concluded last week, a couple of familiar names noticeably were absent when the final selections for the teams were announced.
Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga, New York, and Bill O’Neill of Langhorne, Pa., who have been members of Team USA 11 and seven times, respectively, each have decided to retire from the Team USA program. Both will continue to compete professionally.
“I have been blessed to have so many memorable experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Johnson said. “However, with the ladies tour back, and all the travel I have been doing lately with Team USA, the PWBA and the PBA, I felt like I needed a break to have some work/life balance.
“Team USA has taken me to so many incredible places, but I am not getting any younger. At this point of my career, I want to be able to focus on keeping my body healthy and maximizing my abilities on the PWBA and PBA Tours.”
Johnson has won 38 medals in international competition and is leaving Team USA on a very high note. At the World Bowling Women’s Championships in December, she threw a perfect game to lead Team USA past Korea for team gold. She also won silver in all-events and Masters, and added a bronze in trios.
Johnson said her most memorable moments for Team USA were “being a member of the 2011 and 2015 Women’s World Championships gold-medal teams. Prior to 2011, the women’s U.S. team had not won gold in 24 years. It was very special to do it once, but to do it twice, was bittersweet.”
Johnson is coming off an outstanding 2015 season, in which she won the USBC Queens, Bowlmor AMF U.S. Women’s Open and the Professional Women’s Bowling Association Detroit Open on her way to PWBA Player of the Year honors.
Her 2016 schedule already is packed with the PWBA Tour, plus she has committed to bowling in three major Professional Bowlers Association tournaments – the PBA FireLakeTournament of Champions presented by Oklahoma Grand Casino, USBC Masters and Barbasol Player’s Championship – and was drafted into the PBA League.
“We are so lucky to have to have the PWBA back, and I want to be able to be bowling at the highest level for as long as possible,” said Johnson, who was on Team USA from1994-1996 and again from 2008-2015. “With that, comes some sacrifices to give my body some rest. I had some knee problems during the year, which I have been able to rest and get better, and I feel like I now can come out full force on the PWBA and PBA in 2016. I will definitely miss being a part of the team.”
O’Neill has won 24 medals in international competition, including 15 golds, but he also needed to slow down his schedule.
“The main reason why I decided to step away is because I wanted to spend the extra couple of weeks a year with my family,” O’Neill said. “My son is turning 3, and it is getting really hard for me to be away. Since I had been on the team for the last seven years, I also felt it was time for the next groups of guys to get a chance at having the same experiences I have had bowling for my country. Nothing in this sport is quite like representing your country all over the world, and I would love for other people to get to experience that as well.”
“I was really hopeful that we would get into the Olympics,” O’Neill said. “When that didn’t go our way, I knew it was time for me to step away.”
O’Neill said his first opportunity to compete at the World Championships, in 2010, remains his favorite memory. He didn’t have much expectation but won individual gold medals in singles and all-events and the team took gold, too.
“The gold-medal match against Finland was the best game I have ever been a part of,” he said. “We went back and forth all match, and it ended with Tommy Jones throwing two strikes in the 10th to clinch it for us.”
Go to BOWL.com/TeamUSA to learn more about the Team USA program.