Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on June 27, 2016
There’s little need to explain why the female 3-cushion players don’t reach the averages that are common amongst the men. The historical disadvantage is huge, and the number of women players is so much lower, statistics almost dictate that fewer talents will rise to the top.
So I don’t have a problem with the enormous gap between Klompenhouwer and Hida on the one side, Caudron and Jaspers on the other. Orie and Therese are great champions, and they should wear their world title medals with pride.
But I am worried about two things, when it comes to the ladies division of our sport. First question: where is the second echelon?
DJ, TB and FC face formidable competition in every tournament. There’s a half dozen players almost as good as they are, and thirty others who can beat them from time to time. It’s what makes today’s 3-cushion World Cups so fascinating: even the best in the world can sometimes lose in the first round.
It’s nothing like that in women’s 3-cushion. The gap in playing strength between Klompenhouwer and (for example) Higashiuchi, Pheavy, Jetten, Hayashi or Degener is three times as wide as the one between FC and Zanetti, Merckx or Sanchez.
Asia still only has the aforementioned Orie Hida firmly over 0.900, and a handful of others that could maybe claim to be over 0.700. The field in Europe is even weaker, with Karina Jetten (who used to be around 0.800) in a long slump, Gülsen Degener around 0.700 at best and the other Belgian and Dutch women not even breaking 0.600. No talent that I know of, from France, Denmark, Spain, Germany or Austria. Turkey may be the only hope.
Again, you could contribute that to historical disadvantage and accept it as something that will change for the better over time. But once you start comparing billiards to other sports where the women had a lot of emancipating to do, the situation becomes a bit more worrisome.
It leads to the second question: why aren’t they catching up?
Only half a century ago, the marathon was run only by men. The female world record in 1964 was 3 hours 27 minutes. That became 2.55 in 1971, 2.32 in 1978 and Paula Radcliffe did it in 2.15, in 2003. The men are still a lot faster (2.03), but a gap that was 74 minutes wide in 1964 has shrunk to 13 minutes. What is left, is a logical margin created by the physical difference. You could argue that Radcliffe’s 2.15.25 is as good as Dennis Kimetto’s 2.02.57.
Maybe the comparison does not quite work, but I am wondering why the women billiard players can’t seem to make the type of progress that was made in all the athletic disciplines in the past decades. Therese’s 1.1 certainly does not compare to Caudron’s 2.2 the way Radcliffe compares to Kimetto or Serena Williams compares to Novak Djokovic.
In the old days, when billiard tables were predominantly found in bars, women who picked up a cue would have to deal with all sorts of unpleasant attention, unwanted advice or inappropriate comments. We can come up with sociological or philosophical explanations for that, or just admit that men are pigs. Either way, the climate for women to explore billiards used to be bad. But it no longer is.
Motivated female players can develop their skills, without obstacles. The tables are there, mostly in smoke-free, drunk-free rooms. The knowledge is available for free, online. But the averages are almost as poor as they were 15 and 30 years ago (again, with the exception of a few).
By CEB decision, there’s no more European title to be won in Brandenburg for Therese. The alternative, the Ladies Cup, was recently played in Rosmalen, the Netherlands. Klompenhouwer won it by a margin, averaging 1.107. Runner-up Degener had 0.685, Jetten 0.608, Karakasli 0.519, Mortensen 0.534, Fendi 0.529, Wilkowski 0.523, van Dansik 0.294. Those were the nrs. 1-8 of the strongest European tournament of the season, and that’s not good, to put it mildly.
Trust me, I would like nothing better than to end my column on an optimistic note. But I can’t. I don’t see women’s 3-cushion picking up steam and quality in the next ten years, at least not in Europe. The number of players is simply too low.
Five, six, seven years from now, there will be 25 or 35 players from Korea, Japan and Vietnam who can average over 0.800. Some will break 1.000 (I hope). Srong Pheavy is obviously the number one candidate to do so, she is young, has excellent basics already and she’s highly motivated. Hida will still be around, maybe Nishimoto can improve.
As for Europe? I can’t see anybody getting even close to Therese in the upcoming years. That may be good for Klompenhouwer, and I always love to see her play well and win, but it’s bad for the sport.
When it comes to women’s 3-cushion billiards, I ask you: what are we doing wrong, people?