Queens on Steroids
by Marshall Snider
Chess makes the Olympic slate. Will athletes be treated equally?
By Marshall Snider
Sweat cascades off of these gladiators like rain. The competitors are focused, every muscle taut, waiting to spring with coil-like intensity. The combatants move with the grace, speed and reflexes of a cheetah. The crowd is on the edge of its seat, waiting for the climactic thrust: Soon there will be blood on the sand.
At last, the moment is here. Kasparov moves his knight and it’s . . . Checkmate! You gotta love sports!
Sports? What does chess have to do with sports? Sports are football, hockey, Australian rules football, contests where people run, jump, throw, butt heads (that’s two words, thanks), sweat, bleed and pull groin muscles. Sports. What makes America great.
We all know what a "sport" is, of course. Soccer is a sport; running hurdles is a sport; baseball is a sport; dancing around the floor with a big ball and streamers is a sport. Haven’t you watched the Olympics lately? Rhythmic gymnastics, or whatever they call it, is a sport, as is synchronized swimming, pairs ice dancing and shooting a pistol.
OK, not traditional sports, but arguably all of these (include curling in that list) are a sport. My dictionary defines a sport as "an activity involving physical exertion and skill, governed by rules or customs, often undertaken competitively." So there you are: golf must be a sport.
Are there any limits to what we call a sport? Reading a book involves the physical act of holding an object steady and turning pages, and if we had a fast reading contest with rules, that surely wouldn’t be a sport. But I could be wrong. If you were the International Olympic Committee you could make book-reading a sport with the stroke of a pen. The boundaries of sport are down, shattered. Chess is now a demonstration Olympic "sport."
They must be kidding: chess a "sport"? By the Olympic Committee definition, the computer game I am playing every other paragraph as I write this story would be a sport (OK, I’m easily distracted). The naked guy throwing a discus must be rolling over in his crypt. If chess is a sport, so is my every morning run for the bus: Look for me chasing an RTD coach in Athens in 2004.
Next thing you know, they’ll want to give drug tests to these chess studs. After all, in a tough match steroids can give you the extra energy you need to push that little button on the clock or move around those one-ounce chess pieces. Taking speed will have you moving so fast your opponent will be dazed. Yep, need to drug test these guys.
Of course, I’m kidding: nobody could pass such an absurd rule. Oh no, I’m wrong again. Somebody could pass such an absurd rule. The International Olympic Committee, the group that Salt Lake City bought, could pass such an absurd rule. And they have.
Knight to pawn six, or whatever they say when it gets exciting. When chess becomes an Olympic sport, the players will undergo drug tests, just like the wrestlers, weightlifters and sprinters. Can’t have them unnaturally bulking up those fingers, can we?
The IOC rationale is that some drugs can make players more mentally alert in a long, hard match. Now, I’m really confused. I thought my brain on drugs was a runny, out-of-control, ugly mess that caused me to bash my kitchen with a skillet. Now, the IOC says drugs will make me mentally alert? I wish they’d make up their minds.
When you think of it, the decision to declare chess a sport is a boon to aging weekend athletes. No more hamstring pulls and stiffness on Monday morning; forget about chasing balls around golf courses and tennis courts. When your doctor asks if you are staying active, tell her sure! You play poker every Friday night. Because poker is bound to become an Olympic sport as well: it has all the same competitive attri-butes and physical skill requirements as chess, plus it involves lifting weights (poker chips, beer cans, corn chips, to say nothing of those awkward, heavy playing cards). But let’s keep it on the up-and-up: if anyone is caught using mind-enhancing substances at the poker game, there will be six-guns on the table in short order. And you could be expelled from your buddy Phil’s house for life.