That last thing you’d think when meeting Fatima Moreira de Melo is of a pit-bull. The smiley, bright Dutch poker player doesn’t seem anything less than someone enjoying life, happy to talk to anyone. But this is how the Team PokerStars Pro described herself in her past life as one of Dutch hockey’s most successful international players. But you don’t win Olympic and World Championship gold by being nice.
“I was a pit bull,” said Moreira de Melo, looking nothing like a pit bull today in polka dot trousers. “I was a real pit-bull. Very un-British. Swearing and everything.”
Un-British perhaps, but it was the same winning approach that she believes will equip the Dutch team with what’s needed to win Olympic gold this when they travel to that most British of places, London.
In the UK it’s hard not to notice that the Olympics are coming to town, with joy being promised across the land. Those competing are already in up to their necks in preparation (tricky for the long jumpers), with smaller events filling the first half of the calendar in preparation for the big jamboree in August.
For Moreira de Melo that’s a familiar schedule, endless hours of training to ensure you’re at the sharp end of your talent when the time comes to play for gold in front of billions.
Now though, Fatima Moreira de Melo has switched her attention from cold mornings spent running around outside for the more climate controlled world of high stakes poker. But it’s not always an easy transition.
“I went to watch Feyenoord play, my home team, and it was sunny out and they were on the field and I just immediately wanted to be on the field as well,” said Moreira de Melo. “That’s when I miss it. But when it’s cold out and dark and I know that I have to train and freeze my fingers – I’m so happy that I quit!”
Fatima Moreira de Melo
Moreira de Melo may have turned her back on wearing short skirts in the freezing cold but it’s hard for a former athlete not to covet playing in the Olympics, even with all that involves.
“I’m still in contact with a few girls still on the team,” she said, talking on Day 1B. “What day is it today, Tuesday? I’d be in the eastern part of Holland. They’re staying in a hotel for the first three days of the week and training, doing hard core training sessions, weight lifting, that sort of stuff. Then I’d be going home to train with my club team and play league games.”
The Dutch team recently won the bronze medal at the Champions Trophy in Argentina, a preparation tournament won by the home side who beat Great Britain in the final. It was a good performance by Moreira de Melo’s former teammates, a talented side, high in fitness and skill, something the Dutch always count as their strength.
“Because there are so many people in Holland who play field hockey the skill level is pretty high, you can just pick and choose. I think because there’s a history of skilled people there’s a lot of people who can teach you those skills.
“My idol was Annamieke Fokke (a bronze medallist at the 1988 Seoul Olympics). She was older, a right midfielder and really skilled, and a little cocky. She was just so good and that’s who I wanted to be.”
The pit bull.
But while idols and trying to reach their standard, inspired Moreira de Melo on the hockey pitch, her approach to poker seems more personal, perhaps appropriate for one of competitive world’s most individual pursuits.
Moreira de Melo in action
“I always want to do things at my best. I don’t need to compare myself to other people because obviously I know there are better poker players out there than me. But I want to do what’s within my capacity and become the best player that I can be.
“It’s actually the same for me with everything in life that I like, I’m competitive. I tend to make competition out of a lot of things.”
Right now that’s at the poker table (she has already had success as a singer and a TV presenter). The past three years have earned her more than $170,000 in tournaments around the world, with each performance pointing towards a maturing poker player. No pit bull perhaps, but the longing to succeed; something she hopes the Dutch team will be able to mimic on their way to top spot on the podium.
“It’s going to be a close call between the top teams. Argentina is a very skilled and fit and passionate team,” said Moreira de Melo.
“I think Great Britain are really good but tend to choke. It must have to do with culture, modest nice and polite, raising hand when doing something wrong,” she joked. “We’re just arrogant Dutch and think we know everything best. And we win.
“The only thing lacking is that there’re a lot of younger girls and there’s not many older girls that take on the responsibility when it really matters. Maybe it’s too harsh to say a lack of passion, but it’s that fanaticism, that grit; being a bitch on the field and pulling everyone through when 2-1 up in last five minutes.”
They need a pit-bull, perhaps.