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July 26, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
During the Olympic games, millions of viewers across the globe tune in to their televisions to watch popular sports such as gymnastics or tennis. Those sports are inherently Olympic. But some activities walk a fine line between Olympic-caliber sport and bar game. Vox removes the proverbial veil from three of these sports and their athletes to show our readers why they shouldn’t be ignored.
Sam Stuck carefully begins placing the colorful numbered balls into the rack to prepare for the first 8-ball match of the night. The cue stick looks at home in his chalked, skillful hands, as his broad frame casts a shadow across the felt that covers the pool table. Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried” blasts from the jukebox but has little effect in muffling the loud clash of the initial ball break.Related Articles
Stuck has been playing billiards competitively since he was a freshman in college. Decades later, he has grown to love the competitive part of the game almost as much as its social aspects. Stuck currently plays in the Amateur Pool Association billiards league three nights a week.
Besides having a good time with his friends, Stuck has found a way to make a little green on the green felt. The pool pro and his teammates once returned from the League Regional Playoffs with $850 in winnings.
Stuck is also the captain of two teams; one is appropriately named Sam’s Klub. Next to playing in competitions, the league champ prioritizes coaching his teammates and any player seeking advice.
“We all coach and teach each other,” Stuck says, waving toward his friend and teammate Trisha Clutts, who is smearing blue chalk over the end of her pool cue.
“Trish,” as Stuck refers to her, is one of the newest additions to the APA. She has been coached by Stuck and several other veteran members throughout the past few years. Like Stuck, she also loves the game for its social and competitive qualities.
Clutts says sometimes the pressure of competition can be a lot to handle.
“I have a difficult mental game sometimes,” Clutts says. “I just take a deep breath, and my team helps me not forget to have fun.”
But according to some billiards players, just because an event is labeled competitive doesn’t make it synonymous with Olympic.
“The sport is competitive, sure,” Stuck says, “but that doesn’t mean it should be in the Olympics. Billiards has its own venue, and it should stay that way.”
Jason Snodgrass lines up his gaze with the bull’s-eye, and the toe of his broken-in tennis shoe points the same way it has so many times before.
Snodgrass, president of The Columbia Dart Association, and vice-president Roy Leiby organize CDA league play every Wednesday night. Snodgrass, who has been throwing darts for 22 years, developed his love for the game as a boy. “I used to go to matches with my big brother,” he says. “Darts were always in the family.”
After he scores a high round, the experienced thrower knuckle bumps Leiby in celebration. Leiby pauses before taking his turn. “It’s all hand-eye coordination,” he says. “That’s all it is. And practice.”
Snodgrass has competed in statewide tournaments and often returns with heavy pockets. The winning pots vary, but the competition between leagues is always heated. He says international league play is just as competitive as any other Olympic event. “The World Cup of Darts is the Olympics of darts, just under a different name,” Snodgrass says.
One seemingly unremarkable day in Mazandaran, Iran, Mohammad Sarmadi found his hidden talent in table tennis.
Sarmadi’s introduction to the sport sparked an intense passion to practice and become involved on a national level. His hard work paid off when he was offered a place in the men’s singles competitive division as a high school junior and again as a senior.
After he moved to the U.S. to pursue a chemical engineering degree at MU, Sarmadi ran into some table tennis players at what was then Rothwell Gymnasium. The discovery excited him.
Today, Sarmadi is an active member of Columbia Table Tennis Club.
Sarmadi says one of his most rewarding experiences with his traveling league was when he played a higher-ranked competitor in St. Louis this past spring. Unlike most sports, where lower numbers indicate a better ranking, table tennis works just the opposite. “I was ranked 1,700 and the guy against me was ranked 2,532, and the score was 8–8,” he says. Sarmadi lost, but just being close was a thrill.
Table tennis joined the Olympic program in 1988, and Sarmadi says he believes it’s important for it to remain that way. He says the number of table tennis players and their skill is continually increasing.
“The game is gaining popularity; more people, more countries go to the games for table tennis,” Sarmadi says. “It’s improved drastically in the last 15 years.”