Olympic gold medalist trades sticks for stacks

Fatima Moreira de Melo
Olympic gold medalist Fatima Moreira de Melo is the latest Team PokerStars SportsStar.

At 30-years old, Dutch field hockey star Fatima Moreira de Melo reached the pinnacle of her sport last summer, leading her team to gold at the Beijing Olympics.

After a storied career that included two more Olympic medals and a World Cup championship over 191 career International matches, it was time to hang up her stick.

Like a lot of former athletes, Moreira de Melo was left craving the competition and one year later, she's found it in the game of poker.

"I do think there are a lot of similarities between sports and poker," the newest Team PokerStars SportsStar told PokerListings on Day 1b of PokerStars EPT Barcelona. "It's about competing and I'm still very competitive."

Moreira de Melo has actually been playing poker for the past four years at home games with friends.

So when PokerStars called to invite her to join the newly created Team PokerStars SportsStars with the likes of tennis-legend Boris Becker, Swedish hockey star Mats Sundin, French rugby player Sebastien Chabal and Finnish powerboat racer Sami Selio, it appeared to be a perfect fit.

"I was already playing quite a bit in home games with friends and last year PokerStars called and asked if I was interested in poker and I was like, 'Hell yeah, I really love poker.'" she explained. "I told them I love the game, but I want to get proper training and get really good.

"Right now poker has the same spot in my life that hockey had in the past. I'm going to do things on the side like acting and presenting, but this is my main focus and if I want to do something good, I have to do it right."

Doing it right for Moreira de Melo meant getting some extensive training from long-time friend and Dutch Team PokerStars Pro Lex Veldhuis, who final tabled the $40k anniversary event at the 2009 WSOP.

Lex Veldhuis
Friends in high places.

The former face of Rabobank in the Netherlands, Moreira de Melo also spends a lot of time discussing strategy with her boyfriend, Raemon Sluiter, a former pro tennis player who shares her love for the game.

But the competitive edge she brings to the felt is all her own.

"If you are playing in a field hockey game competing at the Olympics your adrenaline is at a constant high," she said. "In poker you have moments where your adrenaline rush comes up, then fades away a little bit and comes back up again. At least that's how it works for me. It's more of a roller coaster.

"In hockey I was really comfortable, I was really used to the game and this is newer to me. But there are certain similarities, like knowing your opponent and wanting to beat him. The competitiveness is really nice for me because that's what I missed in my life when I left hockey and that's what I'm getting now."

Although she went broke in the early levels on Day 1b running jacks into kings, Moreira de Melo is hoping her competitive spirit and love for the game will translate into success in poker and that success will help grow the game in the Netherlands, where she is already a national hero.

"It's a bit of a shock to people at first because I am a woman and I used to be the face of a bank, but I just really love the game and that's my reason for playing poker," she said.

"I hope that I can inspire people to look at it the same way and just to try it out and have a nice time with it."

To follow PokerListings' comrehensive coverage of EPT Barcelona, hit up our Live Tournaments page.

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