Let the Games Begin: 10 Winter Olympians Who Play Poker

Peter Northug and Marcus Hellner.

The curtain goes up and the fireworks go off to begin the 2014 Winter Olympics today in the Russian city of Sochi.

As the most expensive Olympic project ever ($51 billion) with a growing legion of random Russian peculiarities popping up, we expect the games this year to be notable for a lot of things other than the medal counts.

With several notable poker sharks among the athletes - including Canadian goalie Roberto Luongo and Cross-Country Skiing icons Petter Northug and Marcus Hellner - we're hoping a few of those stories involve wild poker games in the ramshackle Athletes Village.

When PokerListings interviewed Northug in 2011 at the WSOP Main Event he revealed that he actually played some online poker in the Olympic Village in Vancouver in 2010.

With not that much else to do (save the, err, condom-based activities) poker was a good way to spend your time, he explained.

With poker growing worldwide several of the athletes at the Winter Olympics have listed poker as a hobby in their official bios so PokerListings Norway's Thomas Hviid looked a few of those with poker habits and their chances at a medal.

Gregor Schlierenzauer, Austria – Ski Jumping

gregorschlierenzauer com

We're not surprised to hear that one of the world’s best ski jumpers mentions poker as one as his hobbies. Ski jumpers are used to huge adrenalin rushes so poker is an obvious way to imitate the feeling when not flying 100 meters in the air on just a pair of skis.

We don't know much about Gregor Schlierenzauer’s poker skills but we imagine he's visited the local casino in Innsbruck, Austria, near his home town. Or maybe he learned the game while waiting to jump, since ski jumpers are often seen playing cards or games while waiting for their turn.

“Schlieri” is one of Austria’s biggest medal hopes in Austria and he'll be looking for victory on both the big and the small jumps. It would be a huge upset if he and Austria are denied a medal in the team competition, which they won in 2010:.

Chances for a medal: A A

Petter Northug, Norway – Cross-Country Skiing

Petter Northug

Northug may be the highest profile Olympian on this list given his numerous victories at the Olympics, World Championships and World Cups, but he's also one of the most experienced poker player.

He's played in several WSOPs and EPTs, including a cash at the Main Event in 2010, and he's also shown his skills online under the alias ‘Northugjr’ on PokerStars.

In 2013 he was 7th in SCOOP event 2-H for a $60,617 score and lately he's been testing himself in high-stakes games (although right now to a somewhat large minus).

He takes the game very seriously and has received coaching from Norwegian poker sharks such as Johnny Lodden, Mikael Blomlie and Steffen Kjerstad.

He took home four medals in Vancouver but this year it might be difficult to live up to his success from 2010 as he's had some injury problems leading up to the games. He'll definitely take a medal or two in the team competitions, though.

Chances for a medal: A A

Roberto Luongo, Canada – Ice Hockey

Roberto Luongo

If you read these pages during last year’s Main Event in Las Vegas you know we followed Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo’s progress at the WSOP pretty closely.

He's been in Vegas the last couple of years and in 2012 he actually cashed in 634th place for $19,227.

He started playing back in 2004-2005 when the players in the NHL were on strike and poker was booming. So far we've mainly seen him play at the WSOP but we imagine he'll drum up some action with the Canadian Olympic team.

Luongo was part of the Canadian team which won gold in Vancouver in 2010 and chances are good he'll get another medal in Sochi. The bookmakers see Canada and Russia as the favorites to win the gold this year.

Chances for a medal: K K

Bode Miller, USA – Alpine Skiing

Bode Miller wiki

Bode Miller is the most successful male American skier ever with 33 World Cup victories, two World Cup crowns and five gold medals at the World Championships.

In Vancouver four years ago he won one gold, three silver and one bronze.

He's yet to demonstrate his poker skills at a major tournament but he's played in several charity tournaments. In 2011 he played a tournament with Ted Ligety, Jens Byggmark and Rainer Schönfelder plus poker pros Johan Brolenius and Erich Kollman. We also noted that tracking software has picked up a player on Full Tilt Poker with the nick ‘Bode Miller’, but this might not necessarily be him.

Miller is now 36 and Sochi will probably be his last chance to get more Olympic medals. He chances are best in Downhill and Super G, but when skiing at those speeds anything can happen.

Chances for a medal: Q Q

Marcus Hellner, Sweden - Cross-Country Skiing

marcus hellner

Hellner is Petter Northug’s biggest rival and they've had many tight races over the years. Their rivalry has transferred to the felt where they've even had last-longer bets at tournaments. This happened in 2010 at the WSOP where Northug was most successful.

At the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo in 2013 they were at it again with a duel over three disciplines. First Northug won a jet-ski race and the Norwegian then won their heads-up match in poker. Hellner regained some of his pride by lasting longer in the EPT Grand Final Main Event, but Northug won the duel 2-1.

Hellner won two gold medals in Vancouver, including one in the 4x10 km relay, and he will probably also see the relay as his best chance to get another medal.

Chances for a medal: K Q

Andreas Birnbacher, Germany – Biathlon

andreas birnbacher

The 32-year-old German listed “playing poker with friends” as one of his hobbies but if those friends are his fellow German teammates we're quite sure poker is in his wheelhouse.

To be an Olympic biathlete you need focus and the ability to keep your nerves under control on the shooting range when your pulse is racing. That can definitely help your poker game.

Birnbacher is participating in all the biathlon races but his best chance for a medal is in the relay. The German team had a small disappointment in Vancouver coming only 5th, but there's a good chance of fixing that result this time around.

Chances for a medal: Q T

Jouni Pellinen, Finland – Skier Cross


According to Jouni Pellinen’s website he's earned a living playing poker before so we can imagine he's another aggro-Scandi - especially since he competes in Skier Cross where four racers have to get first on a narrow slope – and pushing is allowed!

Pellinen won silver at the World Championships in 2011 and came fourth in 2013, so he has high hopes for a medal this year.

Chances for a medal: T 8

Kim Lamarre, Canada – Slopestyle


At PokerListings we're always happy to celebrate female poker players so we're thrilled to put Canadian freestyle skier Kim Lamarre on the list.

Even better she lists poker as one of her hobbies together with pool, gardening and cats!

Lamarre is participating in skier slopestyle, a new discipline at this year’s Olympics. Basically the participants have to do tricks on skis on different obstacles like rails, quarterpipes and jumps and a team of judges evaluate their runs.

She was fourth at the World Championships in 2011 and third at the X-Games last month (where not all her competitors were present), so a medal is definitely not out of the question.

Chances for a medal: 3 3

Thomas Lamparter, Switzerland – Bobsled


35-year-old Thomas Lamparter is the brake man in the Swiss four-man and two-man bob. We've didn't find much about his abilities as a poker player but according to his website he lists poker as his hobby together with Jassen (a Swiss card game), tennis and palms.

He's got a degree in computer science as well so he's probably dabbled in poker online at some poinnt. At the Torino Olympics in 2006 he got a bronze in the four-man bob, but this time we believe he needs to hit something on both the flop, turn and river to get home with a medal.

Chances for a medal: 6 9

Chris Reed, Japan – Figure Skating


Chris and his sister Cathy are skating for Japan but were born and raised in Michigan with a Japanese mother and American father. We assume he got his interest in poker while living in the US - and possible watching fellow Michigander Joe Cada win the Main Event in 2009.

At the 2010 Olympics they were 17th, and this time they say they're aiming for a place in the top 10. Medal hopes might be slim but if we know poker players the Reeds will not give up and fold just yet.

Chances for a medal: 5 7

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