How Many Olympians Have Played in the WSOP? (Six and counting …)

by , Aug 9, 2008 | 12:52 pm

In comparing the Olympics to the World Series of Poker, I didn’t plan to write about this, but Justin Shronk asks: “Have any Olympians ever played in the WSOP?” I stayed awake about an hour last night doing some research (discovering three Olympian/WSOP competitors), and did some follow-up research today after Kevin Mathers added Charles Barkley to the list.

I now have a list of six Olympian/WSOP competitors, but I don’t think I’ve found them all. So I’m asking for your help.

QUALIFYING CRITERIA: I’m restricting the WSOP to bracelet events only; charity events don’t count (like the media event or Ante Up For Africa), but restricted bracelet events do count (ladies, seniors, casino employees). We’ll also include the WSOP Europe. For the Olympians, they had to actually compete in a medal event (no alternates, and no exhibition events). Preliminary rounds (like swimming or track prelims) do count. The Winter Olympics also qualify, but I have yet to find any winter athletes who have played in the WSOP.

In alphabetical order, the following six players have competed in both the Olympics and the World Series of Poker:

Charles Barkley
1992 Olympics (Barcelona) – Gold Medal in Basketball (USA)
1996 Olympics (Atlanta) – Gold Medal in Basketball (USA)
2006 WSOP Main Event

Tomas Brolin
1992 Olympics (Barcelona) – Football/Soccer (Sweden)
2007 WSOP Main Event

Jeff Fenech
1984 Olympics (Los Angeles) – Boxing (Australia)
2008 WSOP Main Event

Yevgeny Kafelnikov
2000 Olympics (Sydney) – Gold Medal in Tennis (Russia)
2005 WSOP – $1,500 Seven Card Stud (9th: $10,745)
2005 WSOP – $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em Shootout (14th: $7,535)
2005 WSOP – $2,500 No-Limit Hold’em (76th: $3,645)

Lennox Lewis
1984 Olympics (Los Angeles) – Boxing (Canada)
2006-2007 WSOP Main Event

Antonio Tarver
1996 Olympics (Atlanta) – Bronze Medal in Boxing (USA)
2006-2007 WSOP Main Event

If you have any information on other potential Olympian/WSOP competitors, please list them in the comments. I’ll add all confirmed entries to this post.

As you can see, Yevgeny Kafelnikov is the only Olympian to cash in a WSOP event, and just missed a final table (stud final tables only include eight players). Combined with his gold medal in tennis, he has come the closest to winning in both the Olympics and the WSOP.

Here are players who have already been researched, but came up short:

Jan Sorensen
12 WSOP cashes, 3 final tables, 2 bracelets
Played for Denmark’s National Football Team (1977-1980), but no Olympics

Boris Becker
Member of Team PokerStars, but has yet to play in a WSOP event
1992 Olympics (Barcelona) – Gold Medal in Tennis (Germany)

11 Comments to “How Many Olympians Have Played in the WSOP? (Six and counting …)”

  1. shronk

    Somewhat-tangential – Yevgeny Kafelnikov is also the namesake of an episode of Sports Night (“Kafelnikov,” S2E5). Interestingly, in a different episode altogether (“Shane,” S2E6) that the character Dan is forced into a mental breakdown after not being able to pronounce Kafelnikov while recording a promo for the night’s show.

    There is also an episode called “Shoe Money Tonight” in which the characters play poker throughout the episode (Stud oddly) – a common theme in Aaron Sorkin films and shows. (West Wing: “Evidence of Things Not Seen,” S4E20). In both episodes Josh Malina (Exec. Producer of “Celebrity Poker” and friend of Sorkin) plays the character that is far and away the best player (Jeremy Goodwin and Will Baily respectively).

    Oh, and I told you he would stay up and reserach it for me. 🙂

  2. Pauly

    Do the Special Olympics count?

  3. BJ Nemeth

    The Special Olympics don’t represent true competition, so I definitely wouldn’t count them.

    However, I am willing to consider athletes from the Paralympics, though I’ll likely separate them from the main list. (Just like I am willing to count the WSOP Europe, but I’ll probably track those events separately too.)

    The Paralympics fall under the official umbrella of the Olympic organizing committees, and no longer include mentally handicapped athletes.

  4. shronk

    We should count the mentally handicapped, but at 3/5 of a regular athelete.

  5. DanM

    I would like to know if any special olympians have played in the WSOP. BTW, it seems like if poker discriminates in any way, it’s against the mentally retarded.*

    * language apologies. you know i don’t throw around the word “retard”. but there’s a difference between the mentally handicapped and mentally retarded. when it comes to mentally handicapped, the poker world is very welcoming — and the WSOP like an annual trade show.

  6. DanM

    Wasn’t there a special event last year (or maybe ’06?) for a bunch of “xtreme” athletes? i think it was the day before the main event.

    if that’s the case, then there’s gotta be a snowboarder or BMXer or someone that played in the main event. (but how would you know if they didn’t cash?)

    if there’s been a snowboarder, rob gracie would know.

  7. DanM

    Ross Powers and Keir Dillon are snowboarding medalists who seem to play a lot of poker with the pros. Gotta think at least one of them has done the WSOP, but can’t find any confirmation.

  8. Poker Shrink

    Xtreme Sports might start as much of debate about what is “sport” as the long standing and by now boring debate about poker as a “sport”. My rule is that if someone might mistake your sporting activity as a suicide attempt, then it is not a sport.

  9. BJ Nemeth

    I can definitely agree with that definition. I only referred to it in the Vanessa Rousso post because that’s what all the young’uns call bungee jumping — an extreme sport. (Although I fail to even see a competitive element to it.)

    I’ve jumped out of an airplane and gone skydiving. (Fortunately, the two actions were related.) To me, that makes sense, because at its core, it has a purpose — escaping from a plane. But bungee jumping is just doing something for the sake of doing it. And it’s pretty dangerous. And it’s generally organized by someone who grew up in a carnival. I’ll pass.

  10. shronk

    *** “My rule is that if someone might mistake your sporting activity as a suicide attempt, then it is not a sport.” ***

    The “Competitive Cyanide Drinkers’ Association” would tend to disagree.

  11. Poker Shrink

    “The “Competitive Cyanide Drinkers’ Association” would tend to disagree.”

    Have you noticed how few of them show up for the reunions….