By Graham Gillespie
It’s the 29th December 2015 and you are in Alexandra Palace, London for this post-Christmas pre-New Year’s Tuesday night. You can’t hear yourself think in this massive overcrowded room that stenches of sweat and lager. You only arrived an hour ago and already four people have spilled their drink on your shirt and the drunken bunch behind you will not stop chanting about the Toure brothers. However, in the distance two Dutchmen and a dartboard can be seen on a platform and the crowd gradually start to shift their attention to them and become enthralled with the events on stage.
The old champion who is fighting against his waning abilities Raymond “Barney” Van Barneveld has three darts to beat the seemingly indestructible current world number one Michael Van Gerwen. Van Gerwen who just missed a double 20 to tie the game leaving Barney with a checkout of 96 to advance to the 2016 PDC World Championship quarter finals and the pressure is disorientating almost to the point of nausea. Yet in the midst of all this Barney takes out his target in just two darts, and the crowd erupts once more.
It may be stuffed with false glitz and glamour and only the UFC does self-aggrandisement better than the Professional Darts Corporation but watching the type of responses to pressure darts elicits has always been fascinating to me. Time and time again these players refuse to succumb to excruciating nerves enabling their skill set to prevail. The format of set play in the world championships also allows hugely important and climatic moments to come round every five to ten minutes or so. This results in no respite for the players which means they are under a constant mental examination throughout the course of a match.
I remember a few years ago I sat a piano exam and I was calm and relaxed before the exam, but as soon as I made my first mistake in the exam my brain melted. For the rest of the exam my mind was almost completely absent and I only managed to play the pieces from muscle memory. Despite this utter loss of composure I survived the exam and managed to do fairly well, this is what I imagine it must be like for the players when the pressure at the oche reaches its zenith. Maybe the top players just stop thinking when under these levels of duress. When Peter Wright was asked about how he held his nerve after beating Dave Chisnell on Sky Sports 4-3 he responded “I don’t know” before adding he was “as nervous as hell”. It was a mystery to him in the same way his hair and face tattoos (google him) are a mystery to the rest of us.
At the end of the tournament it was last year’s winner Gary Anderson who defeated Adrian Lewis 7-5 to retain his crown. A large part of his success can be put down to the fact that the Scot only dropped 2 sets before the final and did not suffer as many emotional rollercoasters as his opponents. Anderson should probably be excused however as he has paid his debts going through the turmoil of the 2015 championship where he scraped past Phil Taylor 7-6 in a cardiac assaulting final.
As the PDC World Championships winded up at the weekend it’s rival tournament the BDO World Championships kicked off at the Lakeside. Compared to the over the top hyperbolic sparkle of the PDC, the BDO edition feels staid and just wants to return to the good old days when it was king. The BDO also makes itself look bad by directly following the penultimate stages of the PDC worlds. It is only natural that the first round of a tournament is going to be of lower quality than the final. Turning on the BDO after the PDC final is akin to watching an ATP tour event match involving Philipp Kohlschreiber and Nicolas Mahut after watching the Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Although being backward in so many ways the BDO does at least have a Women’s World Championship which is ran simultaneously with the men’s, however the prize money between the two tournaments differs drastically with the women’s champion only receiving £12,000 compared to £100,000 for the men. The PDC on the other hand does not have a tournament for women but allows them to compete with the men as Anastasia Dobromyslova did so in 2009. Despite this the PDC need to do more to promote the women’s game on their side of the darting divide.
Another question that often arises about the sport of Darts is whether or not it is actually a sport. If it is not a sport is at least deserves to be respected as a difficult skill to master as anyone who has ever picked up a dart can attest to. Sure many of the players are overweight and the game originated in pubs, but it is at least a test of nerve and skill that is contested on an even playing field. At a time when athletics has been dealt another blow with a new massive doping scandal and cycling still fails to convince many that the peloton is clean, Darts feels like pure unadulterated sporting drama (or at least drama depending on your viewpoint). In its own strange way it is sort of comforting to know that EPO won’t help Phil Taylor hit double 10.