Mike Rowbottom

Ronnie O’Sullivan - Olympic champion. Could that ever become a reality? In terms of ability, you bet. But snooker’s bid for inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Games, for all the flexibility of events promised by the International Olympic Committee's recent Agenda 2020 deliberations, is a long shot into the far pocket.

And it’s a shot that will require more than a bit of swerve to get around the two most highly fancied sports additions to those Games - baseball/softball, and squash.

Not that our man from Chigwell is over-bothered about the whole thing, as he told BBC Sport this week on the eve of a World Championship at which he is seeking to win a sixth title.

Steve Davis took on the ironic middle name of “interesting”; to manage the same effect, O’Sullivan would have to add a monicker of “dull”.

He offered the ever-grateful media a novel newsline during the opening session of his first round match at the Crucible on Tuesday (April 21) – he went on to secure a 10-3 win over qualifier Craig Steadman yesterday - as he played the fifth frame in his socks, having discarded a pair of new size eights which were giving him gyp.

But if O’Sullivan was treading lightly in his opening round - before making do with a pair of what he described as “stinky old shoes” donated post-haste by the tournament director Mike Ganley - his pre-tournament quotes on whether snooker really belonged in the Olympics were considerably heavier-footed as he asserted he would take a world title ahead of an Olympic gold medal.

Ronnie O'Sullivan has played down the chances of snooker and the Olympics making a good fit together
Ronnie O'Sullivan has played down the chances of snooker and the Olympics making a good fit together ©Getty Images

“Any athlete that goes to the Olympics, they wait every four years. That’s their goal,” he said.

“That’s what they train for. From one Olympics to the next all they are thinking about is the next Olympics. Whereas for a snooker player, I’m not sure that they would have that mind-set.

“A World Championships, a UK, a Masters would always come before an Olympic gold medal.

“And so for a snooker player or any sportsman to go into the Olympics and kind of think, well, I’m doing it just because I have to, or it’s part of supporting my country...deep down would it really mean that much to a snooker player?

!f you offered the world championship or an Olympic gold medal - for me it’s got to be the World Championship.

“Some people might say an Olympic gold medal, but we all want to be world champion as snooker players.”

One of the “some people” to whom O’Sullivan might have been referring was Judd Trump, the Englishman who finished runner-up in the World Championships in 2011 and asserted in January - after the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association had submitted its bid for the Tokyo 2020 Games - "If I could play there once in my lifetime and get the gold medal then I certainly think it would top winning the World Championship.”

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O'Sullivan's feet, pictured during the second day of his first round match, comfortably shod in what he described as "Mike Ganley's stinky old shoes". Who would have predicted an O'Sullivan shoe story this early in the competition? ©Getty Images

However, O’Sullivan didn’t rule out the possibility of the sport making the Games one day, concluding: “I’m not sure about that but, you know, maybe it will be in there one day, who knows.”

It was, after all, part of the Asian Games from 1998 until 2010.

Bye the bye, O’Sullivan’s explanation for the soft shoe shuffle of the first round was illuminating. "I've got no fashion sense at all," he told the BBC. "I had the last ones for 10 years and just didn't want to get rid of them.

"But I lost them and had to buy a new pair but they were bashing my feet. I had to take them off, I couldn't wear them.”

For all his wealth and fame, he sometimes cuts an unworldly figure.

One of the oddest things I’ve seen on my air travel was at Stansted Airport in 2002 when what appeared to be a snooker cue in a case circulated for a good length time on the baggage carousel before a figure sauntered over and slung it over his shoulder. The figure was Ronnie O’Sullivan, who had just returned from playing the Irish Masters in Dublin, and the cue was presumably the one with which he had won his first world title the previous year.

Hard to believe there wasn't an airline version of recorded delivery he could have employed to safeguard such a vital item.

If there were to be an Olympic snooker event in Tokyo, O’Sullivan would be 44, and a major draw. The problem is that the man they call The Rocket doesn’t see the Games as a major draw.

Whether anyone really does call him The Rocket, or whether he is only referred to as The Rocket by people who say other people call him The Rocket is a question I intend to leave open for now.

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Judd Trump, World Championship runner-up in 2011, said in January, after the WPBSA had submitted its bid for inclusion in the Tokyo 2020 Games, that he would rather have an Olympic gold than a world title. Ronnie O'Sullivan begs to differ ©Getty Images

The more pressing question would be this - if snooker did get to the Games, would O’Sullivan be there too?

Yes, yes - we all know that if O’Sullivan was a more straightforward, consistent character then his talent could already have earned him 105 or some such world titles. But that’s the whole appeal of O’Sullivan, who has periodically taken himself away - sometimes actually, sometimes only mentally - from the sport at which he patently excels.

In January 2007, a month after O’Sullivan had controversially – and mysteriously -walked out of his UK Championships match against Stephen Hendry at 4-1 down, he returned to prolonged applause for a match in the Masters against his former practice partner Ally Carter.

You could feel the atmosphere in the Wembley Arena prickling the back of your neck. After O’Sullivan had acknowledged the acclaim with a wave of his arm and a punch of the air, he proceeded to a 6-1 win including two century breaks and two scores in the 90s - reminding all that, when the mood is on him, he can reduce this complex game to a thing of simplicity. Which is his genius.

And even at the Olympics, you don’t find many of them.