We don’t know much about the first recorded Olympiad, but we do know that it took place in 776 BCE and consisted only of a sprint, won by a lowly cook named Coroebus of Elis.
Had Wheaties existed back then, the Greeks surely would have chiseled his likeness into their breakfast urns.
The games caught on quickly, with warring city-states even putting their battles on hiatus so as not to disrupt the festival. More events soon were added, including the pentathlon, wrestling, boxing and javelin.
We also know that the competitors were in really good shape, as evidenced by Myron’s famous sculpture, Discobolus.
They had to be, as many of the events resulted in grisly death or horrible maiming—surely culminating in the agony of victory as well as that of defeat. And all were performed au naturel.
The Olympic Games endured for more than a millennium, until Theodosius the Great banned them in 393 CE as unworthy of the Roman Empire’s newly adopted religion—Christianity.
Many modern contests of which the ancient Greeks never dreamed have been added since the Olympics’ resuscitation in 1896: equestrian dressage, sailing, shooting, badminton, cycling and even gymnasts dancing with hoops and ribbons—all of which require some degree of advanced athleticism, or at least hand-eye coordination.
Although poker necessitates nothing of the physical beyond sitting at a table for hours at a time, many, including online-poker companies, continue pushing to make Texas Hold ‘em and other poker variations an official Olympic event.
And why not?
What has the unrelenting endeavor for "Citius, Altius, Fortius"—the Olympic motto of "Swifter, Higher, Stronger"—gotten us but a litany of embarrassing suspensions and medal-strippings for the use of performance-enhancing drugs, dubious victories for blatantly partisan judging—and even a knee-clubbing?
Hardly the stuff of sportsmanship and excellence that the Olympic Games is meant to embody.
And you thought Fred Lorz winning the gold in 1904 after doing 11 miles of the marathon by car was the nadir of Olympic competition.
So maybe it’s time to let the chip slingers—including the aged and/or dangerously out-of-shape—in on Olympic action.
The time certainly is right, with poker enjoying more popularity than at any point since the Old West, thanks to ESPN, NBC and the Game Show Network.
And poker is a marvelously self-policing contest. In the old days, a card cheat wound up full of lead; today, cameras at tabletop level ensure that no player can use an ace up his sleeve.
Who cares if a poker Olympian spikes his whiskey sour with creatine? It may enlarge his biceps, but it won’t make his hand any stronger.
Poker is not exclusive to the physically superior, so an Olympic poker event would appeal to a much broader audience, both in numbers and girth.
Finally, America’s proclivity for physical unfitness could serve as a great asset, providing Team USA with a huge pool of amateur players from which to help poker pros Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth and Craig Ferguson bring home the gold.
Add to the mix celebrities such as Jason Alexander, James Woods and Ray Romano, and the Olympics suddenly possesses star power not seen since Aristotle covered the Games for his local papyrus.
Olympic poker need not even be determined solely by the winning hand. Players can be judged on such vital poker essentials as needling of opponents, best hat and stoniest poker face.
Poker has exerted an undeniable influence on society. Along with bank and train robbing, it served as the mainstay of the Old West’s economy, and it’s given many a bachelor or henpecked husband something (else) to do on a Friday night.
And without poker, we wouldn’t have The Cincinnati Kid, a classic if only for featuring pocket queens Ann-Margret and Tuesday Weld.
Twenty-five hundred years ago, I would have frowned on the idea of making poker an Olympic event. But they’re giving out medals these days for pistol shooting, synchronized swimming and the single-handed dinghy—events as out of place to the ancient Greeks as John Belushi in a toga.
So it’s time a corpulent card shark who can bluff his way to a big pot with king-high gets a shot at Olympic glory.
It’s too late for this summer’s London Games, but making poker an Olympic event is, in the words of Edward G. Robinson in The Cincinnati Kid, “the wrong move at the right time.”
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