How many of us have ever twirled our bodies around a pommel horse, hoisted a javelin skyward, or leapt off a 10-meter perch and somersaulted into a swimming pool?
How many of us have asked a buddy to dive underwater to do dance moves in tandem? How many of us have donned a grilled mask and poked an epee at someone else? How many of us have paddled around a slalom in canoe?
I'd say very few of us.
And yet Gymnastics, Track and Field, Diving, Synchronized Swimming, Fencing and Canoeing are all being contested in the London Olympics.
Now, how many of you have played Pool?
Okay, you may all lower your hands, thank you.
Pool, or Pocket Billiards, is a sport that, in my humble opinion, belongs in the Olympic Games.
Many Olympic sports are wildly popular and followed by billions around the world, like Football and Basketball. But some are relatively esoteric pursuits that are really only enjoyed by a small sliver of the general population.
Pool is neither. It isn't a massively popular sport but it is played by many. Just about every middle-class adult in most countries around the world has messed around on a Pool table at one point in his or her life. In my book, that deserves Olympic consideration. The Olympics should feature sports that ordinary people play, understand, relate to, and appreciate. Pool is a perfect example. You don't even need to be a physical freak to play it. Ordinary people will average physiques can enjoy it.
And it is a game with both physical and mental requirements. I can argue that Pool needs far more strategic thinking and decision-making than many Olympic disciplines. (How much thinking is needed to heave a discus, for example?) Meanwhile, the argument that it isn't a sport is, in my opinion, is laughable. Is there a rule that says you have to sweat in a sport?
There's another reason why Pool should be played under the five rings. Olympic gold would be the undisputed greatest accomplishment for a Pool player. Yes, there are world championships for Pool, but they aren't always held every year.
When Daryl Peach of England won the world 9 Ball title in the Araneta Coliseum in 2007, he reigned for three years, because promoter Matchroom Sport gave up on the event and it was only resurrected by Qatari interests in 2010.
Dutchman Huidji See won the world 10 Ball title last year, but he may not be able to defend it. It's calendared for October here in the Philippines but I haven't heard of any promotions for the event, so I fear it won't push through.
There's a dearth of prestigious events in the Pool calendar that truly mark you as a great champion. An Olympic competition could fill that void easily.
But isn't an Olympic Gold medal the pinnacle of achievement for any athlete in every sport? Er, not really.
Tiger Woods once said that winning one event where he represents his country, the Ryder Cup, is not as important as winning a major. One wonders how highly he'll regard an Olympic medal when Golf becomes an Olympic sport in 2016.
Tennis? Please. Roger Federer would probably equate three Olympic golds with one Wimbledon title. Ditto for the millionaires on the USA men's Basketball team. They want to win in London but for sure the Larry O'Brien trophy given to the NBA champion team sparkles brighter in their eyes.
Football is in the same boat. It's a predominantly under-23 competition in the Olympics and a few days ago the team from Spain, the nation that won the 2010 FIFA World Cup, crashed out with its second loss. The news was mostly greeted by yawns from Malaga all the way to Barcelona.
I think aloud then, why do these sports get to be in the Olympics and not Pool?
One thing is certain: getting a sport in the Olympic Games is easier said than done. There is a maximum of 28 sports in every Summer Olympics, but only 26 in London. Demonstration sports were axed starting in the 1992 Barcelona Games. (You may recall that Pinay bowler Arianne Cerdena won a Gold Medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics when Bowling was demonstrated.) However, for the 2008 Beijing Games, the Chinese were allowed to have Wushu as a demo sport.
The International Olympic Committee decides by vote which sports get in or get booted out. Baseball and Softball were shown the door in 2005, while Rugby and Golf were admitted in 2009 for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The governing body of Pocket Billiards is the World Pool-Billiard Association or WPA. It is recognized by the IOC along with a bunch of other sports that are also not in the Games, like Roller Sports, Lifesaving, Korfball, Tug-Of-War, Bridge, Orienteering, Bandy (a combination of Ice Hockey and Football), Sumo, and Polo. Many of these sports, including Pool, are in the World Games, a sort of quadrennial parallel Olympics for non-Olympic sports.
Ian Anderson, the head of the WPA, is not optimistic of getting the Olympic nod soon. He told me via email that "We compete at the World Games, the Asian Games, Arab Games, African Games etc., but are still waiting for our invite to the main one, the Olympic Games. Will we ever get in? Not sure. It is extremely difficult because the rules to qualify get changed so frequently."
"I know the sports have already been decided for 2020 and we are not part of them either, so the earliest we could get in would be 2024" adds Anderson. "It is highly unlikely that Pool would get accepted outright, and any invite would be for all three WCBS disciplines." (The WCBS is the World Confederation of Billiards Sports, which includes Pocket Billiards, Snooker, and Carom governing bodies.)
No doubt Mr. Anderson shares my opinion that the sport is Olympic- worthy."We are already qualified in many ways to be accepted, we have representation on every continent, which in turn means many nations being represented, and (with) the number of national and international competitions we hold" he writes. "Billiards is a sport by any definition. It has hand-eye co-ordination, it's physical and demanding, requires immense concentration and judgment, and is highly skillful."
Of course there is one other reason why I would like Pool to be an Olympic sport: it just might be our country's ticket to a long-awaited first gold medal. Dennis Orcollo, Lee van Corteza, Carlo Biado or Ronnie Alcano could all be medal threats. If you made 15-Ball Rotation, that Filipino specialty, an Olympic event, then you could pencil in Alcano for the silver medal and write Efren Reyes' name for the gold medal in the darkest ink you can find.
If I were to have Pool as an Olympic sport I'd start with Men's and Women's Singles Ten Ball and perhaps 8 Ball. I'd go for a Race to 11 Double Elimination format to the last four, then Single Elimination Race to 13 in the semis. Races to 15 for the bronze and gold medal matches sound about right.
For sure Pool isn't alone in deserving an Olympic berth. Cricket, wildly popular in the British Commonwealth, should be there, especially with the emergence of Twenty20, its abbreviated, three-and-a-half-hour form. Mixed Martial Arts, growing by leaps and bounds everywhere, needs serious consideration. But Pool is closer to my heart, thus I plead for its inclusion.
For now this is a pipe dream. I must be content with the likes of Water Polo, Dressage, Handball, and Greco-Roman wrestling on my TV screen in the days ahead. And hope that come 2024, one of my favorite sports can finally take its place in sport's grandest stage.
The Passionate Fan thanks Ted Lerner and Ian Anderson for their invaluable help in this article. Follow Ted on Twitter @poolwpa.
You can follow Bob Guerrero on Twitter @bhobg333