The 42nd Annual World Series of Poker got underway on May 31, and on July 19, it came to a close. Held at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the nine players who emerged victorious from this battle royale will return four months later as “The November Nine” and compete in the $10,000 No Limit Hold’em Championship. The event was broadcast on the cable sports network ESPN, which begs the question, “Is poker actually a sport?”
Poker is without question a game of strategy, with high stakes and tense outcomes. It might be a stretch, however, to refer to it as a sport in the traditional sense. After all, contestants remain seated for the entire event, and as with darts the game can be played while drinking beer and chain-smoking, activities that may compromise athletic performance. Still, the question of what is or isn’t a sport is a thorny area.
Like poker players, NASCAR drivers remain seated for the duration of their races. No one would argue, though, that Dale Earnhardt, Jr., doesn’t expose himself to potentially fatal physical hazards. This goes for motorcycle racing and power boating as well, both of which are potentially hazardous, Olympic-recognized events that can be performed by people in less than peak physical shape.
The definition of the word “sport” is wide and includes activities that nobody should be disqualified from participating in simply because they lack an Adonis-like physique. Some are recognized as legitimate sports by the International Olympic Committee, and some have become bona fide Olympic events. What are some notable sports that the unathletic can participate in? Click ahead to find out.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 19 July 2011
Croquet is a lawn game dating back to 19th century England. Its first appearance in the Olympic games took place in 1900. Although it’s known for a relaxed pace, it’s taken on a reputation as blood-thirsty and competitive. One needs only to look at the 1988 Winona Ryder film Heathers, or Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in which an unfortunate hedgehog is used in a game as the ball.
Despite this, it’s remained a popular sport for people of every physical condition and age group. In 2006, former British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who was not known as much of an athlete, was photographed playing the game on the Dorneywood lawn, and sales of croquet sets skyrocketed. A spokesman for the U.K. department store chain Asda reported a 300% increase in sales after the photo ran. "People have seen Prescott 'pegging-out' and have thought if he can do it, so can we," the spokesman said.
In 2009, the Princeton Alumni Weekly devoted an article to Matt Mielke, a 2007 graduate who had studied research science, but whose heart belonged to curling. The game, which has been dubbed “chess on ice,” is popular in Canada, but it has yet to catch on in the U.S.
Despite the reputation of Olympic athletes as well-compensated product endorsers, members of the 2010 U.S. Olympic curling team had to personally sell sponsorships to local businesses in their home town of Duluth, Minn. Sponsors for their team included a retirement home and a car dealership.
The failure of curling to become a popular sport in the U.S. may be due to its lethargic pace. U.S. sports fans may be accustomed to seeing ice-bound athletes brutally body-checking one another and occasionally attacking audience members, and as such curling may simply be too sedate to become a popular American pastime.
Popular culture has conspired to depict bowling as the pastime of former athletes in their autumn years. This is demonstrated in such movies as The Big Lebowski and especially Kingpin, whose protagonist was able to compete at the highest level of competition despite a two-decade absence from the sport and the use of a prosthetic hand.
Regardless of its low-energy appearance, bowling has been said to offer the benefits of moderate, aerobic exercise; it works muscle groups and it promotes flexing and stretching. Walter Ray Williams, Jr., has even managed to make a lucrative career out of it. The 47-time PBA Tour winner is sponsored by Dexter Shoes, Gemini Custom Apparel and Track Bowling Balls.
Chess as we know it today has been traced back to 15th century Europe, but it was originally inspired by a 3rd century Persian game called Shatranj. It requires the strategic thought of a theoretician and the cunning mind of a tactician. It also requires supreme levels of patience, as games can sometimes last for hours and players can deliberate on their moves for just as long.
Playing chess involves long periods of silent, sedentary thought, and it can be played against computers and robots while blindfolded. However, it’s still an Olympic-recognized sport, and it can be lucrative for champions, including Gary Kasparov, who won $175,000 in a 2003 match against the computer program X3D Fritz.
Pool is such a popular sport that it’s developed its own mystique. Thanks to movies like The Hustler, the game summons to mind images of seedy basement rooms lit by a hanging lamp and populated by characters of ambiguous morality.
Despite the popular image of the pool player taking a treacherously difficult bank shot behind his back, in reality people with physical problems can participate in the game. Jeanette Lee, a top-ranked female player, suffers from the spinal condition scoliosis, which can restrict physical activity in many cases. It hasn't stopped her from excelling or earning endorsement deals from such sponsors as Rocawear and Gatorade.
Before Tiger Woods came along, golf wasn’t a game that emphasized powerful drives that sent balls over the horizon—it was about precision and accuracy. Despite how Woods changed the game for professional golfers, it still offers amateurs low-impact exercise that’s within reach for almost anyone.
Despite his recent troubles, Woods’ impact on the game remains undeniable, and not just from an athletic perspective. Professional golfers today earn much more money in endorsement deals than ever before, thanks in part to precedents he set over the last few years. In 2007, fellow superstar Phil Mickelson earned $47 million from endorsements alone, a handsome sum that was not the norm for professional golfers prior to Woods.
Before firearms became widely used, bows and arrows were the weapons of choice for hunting and combat. In the sixth century there was simply no other way to put a man down at 50 paces while hiding safely behind a tree. Today, guns have long since replaced the bow and arrow, but archery remains a popular recreational activity. Modern-day archers, bowmen and toxophilites can all practice the sport without any fear that anyone will fire back.
Archery received a boost in popularity when it was used by Legolas the Elf in the "Lord of the Rings" film franchise and by Sylvester Stallone in the "Rambo" movies. Both actress Geena Davis and musician Ted Nugent are well-known archery enthusiasts, and it remains a popular pastime today.
Just like target archery, shooting qualifies as a competitive, Olympic-recognized sport. It made a notable appearance in the 1900 games, when live pigeons were used as targets. After that, live pigeons were replaced with clay ones, making the spectacle much less gruesome for spectators.
Shooting is a sport in which people of almost any physical condition can participate, as the National Rifle Association will be happy to remind you. It offers resources to women who wish to become shooters, youth programs, gunsmithing, and a training department for newcomers to the sport.
Table tennis has only been an Olympic sport since 1988. It became a federated sport in 1921, however, with the founding of the Table Tennis Association. Since then, it’s become internationally popular among all age groups and skill levels, and no basement rec room is complete without a table.
Of all the athletes who have distinguished themselves in ping pong, Sweden’s Jan-Ove Waldner has won the most effusive praise, with international publications referring to him as “the Mozart of table tennis.” He endorses the Schildkrot Waldner Platinum Attack Table Tennis Bat.
Horse training is an Olympic-recognized sport. One form of horse training is dressage, in which the animals are taught graceful, subtle movements that appear slight at best to the untrained eye, and certainly lack the speed and excitement of thoroughbred racing.
Despite its reputation as “Horse Ballet,” it’s tougher than it looks for both the horse and the rider. So while it’s a pursuit that people in less than top physical shape can consider, nobody should fool themselves into thinking that it’s easy by any means.