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Carom Billiard - 3-Cushion - European Cup Final Club Team - Schiltigheim (FRA)

I'm almost dead, but billiard is my life

Posted by on June 12, 2011

I'm almost dead, but billiard is my life

© Frits Bakker
Richard Bitalis, a long life in billiards. ,,But now I'm more dead than alive.''

He stood already at the billiard table when he was eleven, he's now 65 and is still an attraction for the audience. The level of Richard Bitalis' is not so high as in his topyears after operations in his back, his eyes and the problems with his heart. ,,I am almost dead, but billiard is my life'', he says with a smile. ,,I will only stop when I fall down on the table and cannot move anymore'', he says.

Richard Bitalis played his last match in this European cup this morning. He defeated in his match Clichy Montmartre the brooding Portuguese Paolo Andrade 2-1 (15-14, 6-15, 15-10), but could not look back on a strong performance this weekend. Bitalis: ,,Two weeks ago I had an eye operation again, the third in one year. I can not see clearly with both eyes, because I have to look through a cloud, as it seems. I can only make my stroke after about ten seconds, when the shadow in my eyes is gone.''

It is one of the handicaps he must overcome, which make his days less pleasant. ,,I have problems with my heart for a long time already, but fortunately I didn't need an operation until now. My back is very weak, I had three operations on it, I have little problems with the prostate, with my eyes. I take six pills a day and in my pocket I have a very long letter that I must give the doping doctor when we have a control.''

But Bitalis still is a player to whom it is great to look with all his emotions. It is not a pose, the facial expressions and his talking with the public during the matches. ,,It has always been there, it is my way of playing billiards. Earlier, in the BWA period, they called me the clown of the circuit. I like to entertain the audience, like players as Frédéric Caudron, Semih Sayginer and John Tijssen do. Nobody wants to watch deadly, boring matches which take hours.''

He had his best years in the days when Raymond Ceulemans, Nobuaki Kobayashi, Ludo Dielis and Laurent Boulanger were at the top of three cushion. Bitalis achieved beautiful success: he was second in the World championship of 1983, when he defeated Raymond Ceulemans in the final, but was second in the rank on average. He was also second in the European championship in Viersen after losing in the finals against Lennart Blomdahl, the father of Torbjörn. He won a Grand Prix of BWA in Istanbul, a World Cup in Antwerp and the U.S. Open in Chicago, known as the Sang Lee tournament.

Richard Bitalis takes the life as it comes: he lives in the summer in Cannes with his wife, his son Arnaud, who is known as a bass player in jazz and classical music and a granddaughter (Eliza of fourteen) who is a talented ballerina. ,,I had to choose when I was young between making music and playing billiards,because I also was a drummer and bassist in a rock and roll band. Now I say: I made the wrong choice. But nevertheless for me billiard is a beautiful sport.''

He frequently stays in his small apartment in Paris, because it is easier to play in the league in the Netherlands, Belgium and France then. Bitalis has been travelling for years between tournaments and matches for the leagues to earn with his professional status money with billiard. ,,I was a player during the peak years of three cushion in the circuit of the BWA. There were five or six tournaments in a year then, where the winner received 50,000 German marks and there was a minimum guarantee for each player of 5000 DM.

,,I have participated into the inception of the BWA, it was actually a dream for me. We started with a group of sixteen players, but when the UMB and CEB wanted to stop the circuit and give penalties to the players, I made my choice. I would be suspended for twenty years and have decided not to continue negotiations with Dr. Werner Bayer, the chief of the BWA cycle. I saw no future in the circuit. We have been fighting, Bayer and I. And I stepped out. Much later, just before his death, I met Bayer in a tournament. He said, Richard, you've been right, but it's too late now.''

Bitalis tried to start up a circuit himself, six, seven years ago: the Master Tour with the sixteen best players in the world. The tournament was held twice in Pau. ,,When the players federation was formed, Marco Zanetti said to me: the guarantee for the players is not high enough. I said, okay, see what you do, I stop organizing.''

How much he loves his sport, he thinks the future is always uncertain. ,,We are too much dependent on those few sponsors. When Claude Fath, the boss from Agipi who is 72, stops the organization of his tournament and Luc Richard from Clichy Montmartre will stop his sponsoring, then billiards in France will come into heavy weather. In the Netherlands and even more in Belgium the situation is worrying. We can only wait for a miracle, a savior in urgent need, who is willing to put lots of money into billiards, then there will be a new future for all those young talents in three cushion.''


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