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Thousands of bowlers began descending on the Salt Palace Saturday as opening ceremonies were held for the American Bowling Congress annual championship tournament.

Bowling balls, wrist grips and highly polished lanes were the order of the day as the 124-day tournament set up shop for its 93rd year of competition. The convention, the world's largest assembly of amateur bowlers, runs until June 12. The traveling tournament draws 480 new bowlers each day. Over the four months, it will draw about 48,000 bowlers and their guests - an estimated 90,000 to 96,000 visitors - to Salt Lake City, bringing an economic impact of some $41 million.The American Bowling Congress is the first to use the recently completed convention center. Bowlers, mostly men, from all across America and eight foreign countries are dreaming of strikes as they compete on 48 lanes that were finished only Friday.

"We had some concerns it would be finished in time," said Bowling Congress president Blase Palumbo. "It was, and we're happy to be here."

Tom Mitchell, a spokesman for the 100-year-old organization, called it the Super Bowl of bowling. It was apparent. Young and old bowlers of all races and creeds were represented. Supportive family members filled the stands.

"These are regular guys that are bowlers," said Chris Sielski, a teacher's aide from Westland, Mich., who's been traveling the circuit for 15 years with her husband. "Basically, it's a chance to see the country." Both Sielskis bowled before they married 20 years ago. Chris Sielski noted that last year was the first that women were allowed to bowl in the national tournament.

As an assortment of men in French blue polyester uniforms made their way through the locker room, then the scale area and eventually to the lanes, Boyd Clark and Carlos Budd expanded on what the game means to them. Clark, manager of the scale room - where balls are weighed and determined suitable for competition - said it's the challenge of the game that's kept him coming back after some 24 years.

"It's never the same," said Budd, a weight attendant from Corpus Christi, Texas, who's been bowling for 30 years. "You can bowl 300 (perfect points) one day, then 140 or 150 the next day. It's humbling." Budd said his whole family bowls. He and Clark have been friends since they worked in the post office together 29 years ago.

At opening ceremonies Saturday, Gov. Mike Leavitt, County Commission Chairman Brent Over-son and other area dignitaries welcomed the bowlers. The University of Utah marching band treated attendees to a Beatles medley and the national anthem. Various Utah bowling associations have been trying to attract the convention to the state for the past 16 years. Salt Lake City bid on the tournament four years ago.

The amateur bowlers are competing for $2.5 million in prizes. A total of 438,570 games and 6.5 million rolls of the ball will take place during the four-month event.