This is another episode of The Best of 2018: Scorum Super Series which is a project set up by Tales in order to celebrate the best of 2018 in several sports.
You have most likely already seen a couple of my posts about darts in the last couple of weeks. Now, this post is here to summarize the five best moments of the year 2018. In my opinion, darts deserves a much wider audience, as it is truly one of the most exciting sports to watch. Hopefully, my post will show you why I think like that, and perhaps it will make you a bit more interested in the sport in general.
(5) Lots of new and not that chubby talents
One big step in the right direction to become more popular would be if darts becomes a sport that is being played by people who are fit and healthy. The majority of the players are overweight, which without a doubt does harm the image of the sport. For me personally, it is not that much of an issue, as whenever someone's skills are good, I enjoy watching him/her play. One thing that I noticed in 2018 though, is that there are more younger quality players coming through the development system. Most of these players are skinny, or not that chubby as most of the other players. In the past, the younger skinny players would pretty much gain weight the closer they reached the top. Now it seems like the younger players see the benefit of staying healthy. It would be nice to see the sport develop in such a way that skinny players will have the majority over the overweight ones. Some people even managed to work on their appearance. Jamie Lewis for instance once was a chubby player (source 2014) but has been going to the gym ever since and is currently in very good shape, especially for the average darts player. I foresee a lot of newer names climbing up the rankings in 2019, some of these were already presented to us in 2018, but there's more coming and it's only for the better of the sport.
(4) Van Gerwen - Suljovic 4 x 180 in a row, and the Eric Bristow tribute
The Premier League is the event of the year, besides the World Championship of course. The event takes place on 15 evenings, mostly Thursdays from February to May. Only the best darts players of the previous year are taken into consideration, as only ten darts players get invited to this astonishing competition in front of the largest crowds the sport has ever seen. The two lowest ranked players will be eliminated after round 9, after which the remaining eight players will face each other again before the semi-finals and the final are both being played on the last week of competition.
Round 9 is therefore also called "Judgement Night", and in 2018 this took place in the Echo Arena in Liverpool. Mensur Suljovic, who is a Serbian-born immigrant representing Austria had to win against the player on top of the league Michael van Gerwen in order not to be eliminated. The winner of the match is the one who wins seven legs, with a maximum of twelve legs to be played, meaning also a draw is possible at 6-6. In the second leg of the match, something remarkable happened. Van Gerwen had just won the first leg already, putting Suljovic under pressure. Suljovic did all he could do and started the second leg with a maximum score of 180 after Van Gerwen started with 100. Van Gerwen immediately countered that attack with his own 180, after which Suljovic produced another. To make the leg even more special as it already was, Van Gerwen threw a fourth consecutive 180 score, which allowed both players to aim, and finish the leg in the least number of darts possible, nine. Both failed in that aspect, but it was one of the remarkable happenings in 2018.
Suljovic did win that particular leg eventually, but lost the match 7-4 to Van Gerwen and was eliminated from the Premier League. Sadly, the moment described above did not stay in the memories of most people that night. The reason was that darts legend Eric Bristow, who was present at the event in Liverpool, collapsed behind the scenes and died. This happened during the match described above and was announced during the next match between Daryl Gurney and Peter Wright. After the match one of his best friends, and former darts player Keith Deller, as well as the fans in the arena gave a wonderful tribute to Bristow, just minutes after he passed away.
(3) Gary Anderson vs. Michael van Gerwen Thriller
Earlier during that Premier League season, on night three to be specific, Gary Anderson and Michael van Gerwen played a remarkable match in the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle. When you look at the final result of the match you probably think it was just a regular match between two players, but these two are simply the best two the world of darts currently has to offer. Michael van Gerwen won the match 7-3, but that is not why I selected this match as the number 3 moment of the year.
You have to know that if someone can throw 90 points or more with three darts, on average (so including bounced out darts, including doubles, and including missed shots at a double) he/she is considered one of the best darts players in the world. Those who can reach over 95 points are very likely to win a match, and anything above 100 is simply high-class level. Well, this match over 10 legs, in which Van Gerwen won 7-3, he averaged 110.62 points per three darts. That is even exceptional for the standards of the Green Machine. Gary Anderson, however, ended up losing that match with a difference of four legs but managed an even better average than Van Gerwen, 110.79 to be precise.
Probably the best moment of the match was the fifth leg in which Michael van Gerwen landed seven perfect darts, and just missed out on finishing the ultimate nine-dart leg. Whenever someone does just miss out on hitting a 9-darter, he is expected to still finish the leg, but not this time. Anderson had managed to come down to 170 points, which is the highest possible checkout. Of course, he landed it perfectly, finishing one of the best legs of darts one will ever see.
If you have never watched darts, or if you want to spend 20 minutes on getting familiar with the sport, then these will probably 20 of the best minutes you could do so.
(2) Barney's Rotterdam Reception
In the world of darts, there are not that many players as popular as Raymond van Barneveld is. Perhaps, he is even the most popular player, as everywhere he goes he's receiving amazing support from his fans, the so-called Barney Army. Besides being popular he is also one of the most successful darts players in the history of the sport, winning the World Championship a total of five times throughout his career. I am one of the few Dutch people that started watching darts before Van Barneveld became famous, but I can tell you, there aren't that many of those either.
The Premier League has moved across the border, whereas previously matches were only played in the United Kingdom and Ireland. With so many Dutch players in the top of the world, the sport is massively popular over there, and in Germany, the sport is gaining much more media attention as well. I am sure that within a couple of years, we can see many German players reaching the top as well, similar to what has happened in the Netherlands after Van Barneveld won his first ever world title. Nowadays the Premier League is also partially held in Berlin and in my hometown Rotterdam.
As I'm living already six years in Bulgaria, so far I did not have the opportunity to experience this event live. Luckily for me, that is going to change in 2019, as I managed to purchase tickets for both nights that the Premier League will be in Rotterdam, for me and my wife. They are birthday presents (my wife's birthday is 25 March, mine is 26 March), and it will automatically give the chance to see my family again as well. I'm really looking forward to that experience.
Anyway, back to Barney, who is originally from The Hague, not too far away from Rotterdam. When he started his career in darts, the first ever tournament he won (on an amateur level) took place in Rotterdam too. It is no secret that Barney has a good connection with Rotterdam, and with the Dutch fans of the sport in general. No one, however, could have imagined such a wonderful reception in the Ahoy Arena when the legend appeared on stage. The Barney Army at its best impressed every darts fan in the world. Here's a glimpse of Twitter messages describing the situation perfectly well.
And of course, there is the footage...
(1) 9-dart finishes on televised events
Every darts player in the top-100 in the world has the ability to throw 9-dart finishes, yet it is something that only happens occasionally, as it is extremely difficult to do, but it's even more difficult to do it in competition. During non-televised events from time to time, someone throws a 9-dart finish, sometimes even of players almost no one has heard of. However, you can imagine the pressure and nerves that come along while playing on television and in front of big crowds. There's not one single fan in the darts arenas that do not want to experience a 9-dart finish. As soon as the 4th dart goes into the triple 20 the excitement starts, and that will rise more and more when darts five and six also find their way into the right triple. This is how far most 9-dart attempts go, the 7th dart is already incredibly difficult to throw at the right part of the board, but if someone manages that there's even more pressure on the 8th dart. If eventually, that dart goes in as well, then the player has to choose out of two decisions he could make. Either slow down, refocus and aim or throw the last dart as quickly as possible in the right direction and hope for the best. There's something to say for both options, and each and every player will approach such a moment in their own way if they ever get that far.
In 2018, three players managed to throw a perfect leg of nine darts only. The first one was the current number one in the world, and the player who won the World Championship just five days ago, Michael van Gerwen, during the European Darts Masters in Hamburg.
It took another couple of months before someone was able to achieve such a happening again. Two friends of mine happened to be lucky enough to be there when it happened. For both of them, it was their first time ever to watch darts live, and they chose the right one, as they Gary Anderson in action against Joe Cullen. It was at the World Match Play Championship in Blackpool, where Anderson became the second player in 2018 to hit a perfect leg.
The third and last 9-dart finish of the year came just a month before the World Championship that started in December. During the Grand Slam of Darts in Wolverhampton, a tournament in which players start in a group stage before reaching the knock-out phase, two-time World Youth Champion from Belgium, Dimitri Van den Bergh threw his first televised 9-darter of his career. He is one of the skinny talented players out of my opening of this article, so it's a great opportunity to finish this article with possibly his best achievement so far, besides winning the Youth World Championship twice.
Scorum Super Series
We are almost at the end of the Scorum Super Series, but not exactly there yet. Next up will be our tennis expert jodcarey. Be prepared for some of the best tennis had to offer in 2018. Here is a summary of what else was part of this series, in case you missed out on something.
The Best of Cycling 2018 by me
Thank you for reading and watching, stay tuned!