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The Tryout: Darts

Missing the Olympics? May we suggest the obscure, absurd world of professional darts?

The Mission:

The Japanese turned out to be right: Raw fish laid on top of smushed-together rice is delicious.

That’s all I’m doing here.

I love sports. I grew up an, in order, MLB, NBA, NCAA men’s basketball, NFL, hockey guy. I grew into an MLB, Premiership, NBA, NFL, halfhearted bracket-filler-outer, occasional playoff-hockey bandwagon jumper. I love soccer. My life is better off because I gave a foreign import a shot at winning its way into my American heart.

So I’m giving other sports the same shot. Simple as that.

Methodology:

They’re getting a shot. They’re not getting an extended trial. I’m not going to be fostering, say, Australian Rules Football like a rescue dog, keeping it around long enough to see if I like it and it doesn’t eat my toddler’s face. A successful tryout will end with me wanting to watch more. There’s the bar.

I know, however, that I would hate for the first-time baseball watcher to be stuck with a three-rain-delay, interleague monstrosity between the Pirates and A’s at the Coliseum. So, I’ll be watching championships. Finals. One-match playoffs.

The Tryout:

Welcome to something called the Lakeside BDO World Professional Darts Championship! It happened months ago. January, I think. I’ve successfully managed to avoid knowing who wins because I’ve done near-zero research. Also because it’s darts. Let’s be real.

Here’s all I know of the event, learned in an effort to track down a video of the final: There are two governing bodies in professional darts. Apparently there was a schism at some point in the fairly recent past. From one, staid organization, two rivals were born.

Do I know if there is a demonstrable difference between the two organizations? No. I just know that there was something billing itself as the World Championship and it was broadcast by both the BBC and ESPN in the U.K. That seemed pretty legit to me. So, with all due apologies to dart fans (“darts fans?” I really don’t know), I am well aware that I may be watching an inferior product. This could be the USFL of darts.

One other thing, dart(s) fans: Know that I go into this, my first darts-watching experience, with clear eyes and a full heart. I hope that I love it. I hope I will become a fan. But I am sure I’m going to wind up writing things that are super-ignorant and will make you want to scratch my corneas with whatever it is you call those little feather things at the back of a dart. So, fair warning.

Now, having brought up the Lakeside 2012 BDO men’s final on YouTube, I will press play …

LET’S WATCH SOME MOTHERFUCKING DARTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

00:01
The show opens on a black screen. A small star shape appears in the center and expands — a video wipe — revealing your standard, post–Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?1 television stage set. A large, generic silver-cup trophy and a red-white-and-blue dartboard sit on a table in the foreground. The star, the dartboard’s concentric circles, the color scheme, and the cheap production tricks make this look like a retirement video put together by Captain America’s grandkids.

00:15
That said, I am in good hands with the producers at ESPN U.K. The Lakeside 2012 BDO men’s final (LBMF2K12, from here on out) starts the way all good championships do: with a how-we-got-here montage set to music. The type of bombastic soundtrack usually reserved for scoring epic mid-trilogy battle sequences blares in the background as we are introduced to our two competitors.

First Guy:

Fifty-ish. Grimace-ish. Slimming properties of his all-black outfit being sorely tested. He’s nearly entirely bald — a no. 1 shaver setting having left a faint, black archipelago of hair atop his head and white Romney patches above his ears. His face, eggplant-shaped, is bisected by thin black-framed glasses. Thick, enviable, super-villain eyebrows arch above them. A scrappy gray goatee is the only thing keeping his chin doubled rather than yielding to one chest-to-lips chin. He hits his chest twice with his closed fists. This man is not an athlete.

This man is Tony O’Shea.

His quick-cut journey to the finals sets him up as The Sentimental Favorite.

  • He’s a local boy. Or local-ish. He’s British, anyway, from a rough-and-tumble-sounding place called Stockport.
  • The fans love him. We get lots of shots of him doing something fantastic and then throwing out his arms or beating his flabby chest while the crowd goes bananas.
  • He’s apparently a frequent runner-up (“So often the nearly-man,” says the announcer, in a nice turn of phrase, with “demons” to vanquish).
  • He beat the champion of LBMF2K112 to make it into the finals of LBMF2K12.
  • He is described by the announcers as both “one of the most talented darts players of the modern age” and “the man who put the ‘ocky’ in stocky.”
  • He seems to be punching way over his considerable weight in the romance department. They frequently crosscut between Tony at the line and his wife cheering in the audience. She is so far out of Tony O’Shea’s league it’s making me question why I didn’t pursue a career on the professional darts circuit. Here is a man who throws each dart knowing that, whatever the outcome, he has already won the greatest prize of all: the love of a woman who sort of looks like Emmylou Harris.

And the Other Guy, The Scrappy Upstart:

He’s also heavy. Maybe 30 years old. Head’s been Bic-ed bald. Small silver hoops in both ears and one eyebrow. He looks a little bit like Tony O’Shea, actually, just unburdened by 20 years of choking down bitter darts disappointment.

He is Christian Kist.

  • He’s from the Netherlands.
  • This is his very first time in the Lakeside tournament.
  • He brought along his own wife or girlfriend. She’s young, brunette, factory-town pretty. She keeps hugging a guy who seems to be Kist’s brother in inappropriate ways.

That’s basically it for Christian Kist. There’s pretty much no way I’m rooting for Christian Kist.

2:27
Here we go! Another ocky gentleman in a bulging tux stands on the stage (darts is, it seems, a sport played on a stage) in front of an enormous dartboard backdrop:

“Are! You! Ready?!?!? Ladies and Gentlemen … Let’s! Play! Darts!” The crowd chants along with his every word. Apparently, he’s the Michael Buffer of darts.

The camera swoops over the crowd and gives us the lay of the land. They seem to have set up a stage in the center of a casino floor. Surrounding it is general admission bedlam. There’s a jester hat. Some life-of-the-party wigs. Sharpied signs taunt unfortunate friends who couldn’t score tickets. I don’t think I actually saw anyone drinking, but in my memory, everyone is waving a red Solo cup in the air.

Up onstage, the Victorian-debtor’s-prison-inmate’s Michael Buffer welcomes the competitors.

The bowling-pin silhouette of Tony O’Shea stands to one side. He’s pumped up. Wild-eyed. He looks like a just-introduced American Gladiator if American Gladiators was about eating mozzarella sticks.

“And now, the man they call,” the announcer booms, “Silverback!”

(Good God, I think I might love darts.)

The crowd goes appropriately apeshit. Then, even better, it starts clapping out a beat and sends a full-throated version of that song from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack that goes “Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy-yyyyyyyyyy, baby / I wanna know / if you’ll be my girl” into the hall. Which would be great as is, but is made all the better by the fact that they add, between the “Hey baby” and the “I wanna know,” a gorilla-y “Hooh! Hah!” while Tony, the Silverback, does that chest-beating thing from the opening montage. This crowd loves Tony O’Shea.

Up onstage — Silverback emblazoned on the back of his shirt alongside a semi-menacing gorilla — Tony puts his hand to his ear and milks one more “Hey Baby” chorus before the announcer tamps it down. There’s very little daylight between the entrance of darts player (Darter? Dartist?) Tony O’Shea and that of The Birdman, Koko B. Ware.

Not so for his competitor. All he gets is, “He comes from the Netherlands. Welcome Christian Kist.” The crowd offers up some polite applause and he stands awkwardly amid the neon swirl, shifting nervously between his heels. The cameraman tries to make up for his lack of dynamism by waving the camera around like a glow stick. Kist mouths, “Now?” and then shuffles to the stage, botching the few high-fives that are offered en route. He gets an assist from the boys in the booth as they drop the needle on “Thunderstruck.”3

Kist and O’Shea give a perfunctory, one-handed bro-hug and then the screen goes kind of kerflizzle and I find out that this YouTube video of the final does not have commercials. This is an outsize bummer as I was irrationally looking forward to watching ads for British consumer products.

4:58
Out of the break, two broadcasters break down Silverback’s and From-the-Netherlands’s tournament stats. The key to the match for Kist? “He’ll have to play within himself.” Good to see that color-man banalities work on both sides of the Atlantic.

5:39
Tony O’Shea steps up to the line.

Here’s the setup: The players throw from behind a line that (I just looked this up) is 7 feet 9¼ inches away.4 They’re standing out toward the front lip of the stage with their backs to the crowd. The audience is seated at small cocktail tables on the floor, like the World Darts Championship is a performance of Funny Girl at a dinner theater in Scarsdale. Kist and O’Shea are throwing at a standard dartboard that turns out to be the center of the enormous, decorative dartboard behind the stage. I’m hoping there is a tiny dartboard within the actual dart board that itself has an even tinier dartboard within it that itself has a tinier dartboard within it. Infinite regression freaks me out.

5:51
Tony throws a few warm-up darts. The color man tells us that this is O’Shea’s 11th Lakeside Tournament and “he wants it more than anything.”

Kist steps up for his warm-ups and we’re treated to, essentially, the dartboard’s P.O.V. If this were in 3-D, the darts would be coming right at us.

6:17
I guess we’re playing darts now. After a two-minute montage that made O’Shea-Kist at Lakeside feel like the biggest deal since Ali fought Superman for the Intergalactic Heavyweight Title on the planet of Bodace, after all the razzmatazz of the introductions, it turns out that there’s no pomp between the warm-up throws and the actual throws.

The Silverback steps up — toss-pock, toss-pock, toss-pock — scores a 140. Kist is right behind him — pock, pock, pock — for 59. Whole first round (or whatever) took about 15 seconds.

Apparently, the winner is the first to seven sets. I’ll fill you in when I know what a set is.

7:39
Darts are being thrown.

7:59
Kist throws three darts and they each go into the little narrow sliver in the middle of the pie slice with the 20 over it, scoring 180. Apparently, you score triple in there. The crowd roars, if only because it gives them the opportunity to wave little paper signs that say “180.” I suspect the pleasures of darts fandom may be doled out in small favors.

8:11
All right, here’s what seems to be happening:

Each guy started out this round/game with 501 points and is whittling that down with each throw, I presume, to zero. I also presume that 501 points makes a certain mathematical sense, but its logic isn’t instantly clear to me. Silverback had victory in his grasp but couldn’t quite bring it home. Kist cleaned up, hitting “Double 10s” out there on the outer edge of the board, leaving Tony O’Shea agrumble. Then they get up and just throw more darts.

8:50
Pock, pock, pock. Pock, pock, pock.

8:55
Guys throwing some darts.

9:13
Two things:

  1. I’ve decided the sound is more of a “thuck” than a “pock.” Please do a find-and-replace in your head if the inaccuracy above bothers you. Note, however, that when they replay a winning throw (as they just did when Kist took yet another round from the sweating Silverback), the boys in the booth add a bunch of reverb on the low end, turning the friendly “thuck” into an imposing “thooooom.”
     
    Also note: Super-slow-mo replays in darts are patently ridiculous. It is a dart appearing in a dartboard. No matter how precisely thrown, no matter how dead-center bull’s-eye or hair’s-breadth out-of-bounds, it is just a dart hitting a board. Barring the only marginally likely event that Prince Harry drunkenly stumbles into the line of fire so that a dart whizzes just past his shoulder, thus pinning the SS insignia from his Nazi-themed Halloween costume dead-center in Triple 16, I don’t think I need to see another replay.
  2.  

  3. They aren’t playing cricket. That’s the game you know from, like, the basement game rooms of friends’ divorced dads; the one where you try to score at least one point in all of the different pie slices. Or something. I think that would be more interesting than what’s going on here. At least there’d be some sort of strategy, or at least discussion of strategy. “What’s Silverback thinking here, Nigel?” “Well, Liam, he’s already scooped up the four, six, and 11. But his DARTZ5 score tells us that the 12 is his Achilles’ heel. I think he knocks down the 18 here, mate. Pass me a Boddingtons.”
     
    In this game, they just seem to be going for the highest possible score. So, that seems to mean they’re pretty much always aiming for the narrow, tripling strip in the middle of the 20 area. This makes sense, because if you miss the 50-point bull’s-eye you could end up with three or five or two points very easily. If you aim for the 60-point triple-20 and miss, chances are you’ll still end up with 20 points. In other words, most of this game is taking place in about three square inches. Hmmm …
  4.  

    9:33
    The competitors go, rather grimly, about their business. Every once in a while a man in a tuxedo who stands slightly off to the side, in the sweet spot between close-enough-to-see and far-enough-to-not-be-robbed-of-the-ability-to-see-by-an-errant-dart-to-the-eye, calls out the score. The crowd murmurs in the background, occasional applause interrupts chatting about the cost of their children’s orthodontic work and whether they heard that Clive ran into Kathy, the girl who used to wait tables at the Rose and Thistle in Frimley Green and let’s just say the bloom is off the rose.

    The announcers lament a missed throw by O’Shea that I also seemed to have missed: “That’s the thing about darts … you never know which dart will change the whole context of a match.”

    This for me is doubly true. I am surprisingly at sea in what seems to be a simple game. So, hang out for a second while I figure out the game of darts.

    I’m back.

    Here’s what the Internet told me about darts.

    They’re playing a variation called “501.” And, yes, they’ve got to get down to zero as fast as possible. Here’s where 501 gets semi-interesting: To win the game you need to get the score down to precisely zero and you need to do that by hitting one of the bonus areas. So: if you’re at 22 points, you could “zero-out,” as the saying apparently goes, by hitting Double 11. If you were at 19, you’d have to, say, hit a 1 and then hit a Double 9. All of this means that there’s at least some strategy going on here. If you consider rudimentary math to be strategy.

    So, in this tournament, it looks like they’re playing sets, à la tennis. The match is first to seven sets. A set is won by the first to win three games (apparently called “legs”). Simple enough.

    OK, now that I understand what’s going on, again: LET’S WATCH SOME MOTHERFUCKING DARTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    10:00
    Watching some motherfucking darts.

    10:01
    Things are now making a lot more sense. Kist is sitting at 76. The announcer says “he’s looking at a Treble 20, Double 8,” and I understand what he’s saying. Kist, indeed, aims at, and lands, his first throw in the sliver in the middle of the 20 segment to get 60 points and then “zeros-out” by hitting the outer ring of the 8, scoring 16.

    He gives a little fist-pump and allows himself a self-satisfied smile. Silverback’s shaking his head with apparent disgust at the turn of events.

    Note: I’ve been watching and enjoying football for three decades and am continually learning relatively rudimentary aspects of the game; I’ve been watching darts for less than 10 minutes of actual gameplay and I think I’ve got the whole thing covered. That seems problematic.

    10:38
    Kist is developing something bordering on swagger as he wins another leg. He’s smiling more. Nodding to himself. Tony O’Shea is looking like a man with his Silverback to the wall.

    But wait: Just when I resolved to give this thing a fair shot, I realized that somehow, I’ve missed a bunch of darts. This YouTube video may have been edited for time. I begin rapidly cycling through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief, whipping through Denial and Anger before stopping abruptly at the third stage: Relief That One Has Less Darts to Watch.

    Anyway, Kist is currently up four sets to two.

    11:00
    I’ve decided I’m rooting for O’Shea because:

    1. Underdog, at least at this stage of the match.
    2. Underdog, in the game of life. Will try to plug “Overweight,” “Sedentary,” “Over-50,” “Occupation Both Highly Stressful and Plied in Pubs and Casinos” into an actuarial table during next break in the action.
    3. Home team.
    4. His opponent has, in recent turns, developed both a cocky, self-congratulatory head-nod thing that seems unbecoming of a people’s champion and a tic whereby every time he throws a dart he moves his lips as though he’s trying to surreptitiously spit a small rodent out of the side of his mouth.

    Tony "The Silverback" O'shea

    11:55
    Kist just tried to hit a couple of Double 18’s to put the leg away and put, apparently, the match out of reach but shanks it, leaving a big opening for O’Shea.

    Kist’s girlfriend/fiancée/wife/whomever makes her first appearance since the opening montage looking both deeply nervous and a bit like Björk if her productive years were spent as a darts groupie rather than, like, mapping the REM cycles of squirrels and feeding the data directly into Ableton Live, or whatever it was I read her most recent album is about.

    12:03
    O’Shea and Kist back-to-back-blow it.

    Kist is pissed. Björk is pissed.

    Silverback, back at the line, with three shots to get “Double Top” (the sliver at the top of the 20 slice), nails it on the first try. Leg to O’Shea.

    12:45
    They’re going back and forth, like two heavyweights at the top of the fight game who’ve taken a break from the fight game to throw some darts.

    12:53
    I find out that Björk’s name is Kirsten. So it’s Christian and Kirsten Kist.

    Ugh. Go Silverback.

    14:20
    With Kist poised to take the set with a win on his next set of throws, “there’s a lot riding on these darts” for Tony O’Shea.

    They cut to his own girlfriend/fiancée/wife. Her hands are knitted in nervous concentration. Her face, thanks to an odd camera angle, is obscured by some sort of bar light. The director really ought to cut away. Last time we saw her, she looked striking — long, silver hair falling in waves along a shoreline of dignified cheekbones; now she looks like a lampshade wearing a Lucius Malfoy wig.

    14:42
    Kist zeros-out with Double 10’s, giving him that 5-2 lead the commentators were worrying about.

    Throw this in the plus column for darts: I like how close the competitors stand to each other. They’re hovering right over each other’s shoulder while they wait to throw. I can’t think of another turn-based game where it’s quite so close. Makes for some nice two-shots, TV-production-wise, with one guy elated by a shot made, and the other guy glowering nearby. Also, opens up tremendous possibilities for physical violence.

    15:01
    Play-By-Play Guy: “Can the big boy from greater Manchester rouse the crowd’s spirits once again?”

    Colo(u)r Man: “Well, the answer could be on the back of his shirt … it’s Gorilla Warfare from here on out.”

    Bam! Jokes.

    15:40
    My new favorite thing about the Lakeside World Darts Championship may be how the tuxedoed scorekeeper pronounces his numbers: “Nointy!” “Firty!” “Eighty-free!”

    16:11
    Another 180 for O’Shea who, groove back, has revived to the Silverback chest-pound. I’d like to think there’s a darts video game in which you can unlock that signature move.

    That 180 has also brought forth the best from the announcer who describes the three darts bunched within the scoring sliver as “a tangle of tungsten around the treble twenty!”

    16:24
    O’Shea closes out the game, taking the first leg of a new set. The crowd goes ballistic. Chants of “Tony! Tony! Tony!” ring through the hall. Raphael Saadiq hops onto the stage attempting to lead the audience in a chorus of “Feels Good” before realizing his mistake, saying, “My bad,” and slinking off.

    19:40
    The first marginally exciting leg of the night just wrapped up. Each man blowing three chances to close it out. O’Shea even had his final, would-be-clinching dart strike the feathers (or whatever they’re called) of one of his other darts and get diverted into a neighboring segment, which sounds more interesting than it actually was. O’Shea then had three throws to hit a Double 8 to close out and couldn’t, leaving him to mutter regional profanities while Kist ultimately took care of business.

    It was mildly diverting as an entertainment.

    20:03
    Three things:

    1. Kist took yet another leg.
    2. Mrs. Silverback is apparently named Jill.
    3. They showed a close-up of O’Shea’s off hand and he’s completely blinged out: thick rings on each finger and a wrist laden with the kind of big, honking gold watch you’d expect to receive to commemorate your 50th anniversary as Scrooge McDuck’s manservant. I have a momentary reverie imagining that Tony, rolling onto his sweaty back at night after unsatisfactory rutting, looks at his rings in the blue moonlight spilling into yet another comped hotel room at a third-rate Blackpool casino, and wonders if they could somehow be laced with magnets such that he could wave his hand and control the trajectory of the dart once in flight and finally, for once in his bloody life, actually win a darts final.

     
    22:00
    During my reverie, I missed some darts. I could go back and rewind and recap, but really, it’s all the same. O’Shea’s dropped another set. Kist is one set away from winning it all in his first time in the tournament. O’Shea, I learned, has been to five big-time, televised finals and lost every time. For want of magic, magnet rings.

    23:57
    Silverback is throwing like a defeated man. Head shaking self-hatred with each miss. Occasionally looking off into the crowd — to his wife, I believe — and giving a sad shrug.

    25:26
    Tony O’Shea takes the first leg of his back-to-the-wall set. He pounds his chest as though trying to wake the Silverback sleeping within.

    Jill O’Shea, shot in profile, no longer Lampshade Malfoy, cheers him on. Seated next to her is a young woman who’s clearly her daughter, looking like a Midlands Meghan McCain. College age, probably. College material? Unclear. One can only guess at the life and prospects of a girl who’s spent so many years as L’il Silverback, fending off the advances of darts enthusiasts in gaming floors and multipurpose rooms across the British Isles, SMS-ing S.O.S.’s to friends back home while pinching sips off of people’s Pimms Cups.

    26:51
    One of this game’s virtues is one of its faults: The game is unrelenting. They just keep throwing darts. Lose a leg and you’re right back up there. I’m sure there’s a time limit of some sort between throws, but even to me, the complete darts neophyte, it’s obvious that my man Silverback clearly would do well to chill out for a second here. Even if it only serves to break Kist’s routine, like varying one’s snap count. But, either way, I’m enjoying how they just keep hammering away at each other. And not solely because it means that it promises a quick and merciful end to my darts-watching experiment.

    27:00
    That said, the commentators are working with what little they have pretty effectively:

    “It’s a very lonely place, the Lakeside stage. And a very public place to display your mental demons, but it looks like Christian Kist is a man without demons.”

    Tony O’Shea looks like he may have eaten his.

    In fact …

    29:42
    Silverback zeros-out to take the next leg. He licks his lips like he’s just polished off his third turkey leg at a Medieval Times.

    31:22
    For the first time, one of the darters (Silverback) hits the fins/feathers/whatnots of a dart already embedded in the board and it bounces off. Tony seems mildly annoyed. They show a replay and add on so much reverb and other effects that one dart flittering off the tail feathers of another now sounds like the train crash in Super 8.

    32:00
    Tony O’Shea’s shirt is sponsored by MariFlex, a company that, like the belly within that shirt, specializes in “Liquid Cargo Handling.”

    32:15
    After tying the set at one leg apiece, Kist drops a game “while holding the darts,” which means that, essentially, he failed to hold serve. Silverback mans up and takes the set. Cue the chest-pound. The Silverback is still in it. Although he does need to with four straight sets to pull it out. So, he’s not in it in it, but, you know.

    34:32
    The mood in the room has changed dramatically. Minutes ago, with their favorite son near the brink of elimination, the crowd continued to chat away. But Silverback’s victory has shut them up. People are starting to hang more on each throw, shouting and cheering at shots made, moaning with misses. It makes for way better watching here at home … four months later … on YouTube.

    35:11
    Kist “holds his throw.” He’s two legs away from winning Lakeside, guys!

    37:40
    The crowd members are shushing each other as Tony steps to the line with two throws to zero-out on a Double 8. Toss, thuck, miss. Toss, thuck, miss. Silverback goes ashen, knowing he’s left Kist with a great opening.

    “That’s the look of a man who starts to think, ‘This might not be my year again.'”

    But wait: Kist shanks it!

    “Come on, Tony!” shouts a man in the audience.

    “Come on, Tony!” says the commentator, throwing objectivity out the window like an errant dart.

    “Come on, Tony!” I shout, surprising myself.

    Double 10 for the win! Silver-back! Silver-back! Silver-back!

    43:44
    Something weird just happened:

    I started to enjoy watching darts.

    The game found a nice rhythm, the crowd found its rooting voice, both men threw well, and at the end of it, Tony O’Shea won another set. Down 6-2 not long ago, he’s pulled up to 6-4. Can he rattle off three more? I don’t know. Do I care? You know what? I might!

    44:41
    Both men, after finishing a round, shoot a glance offstage to their wives. It’s actually cool. It really feels like these people’s fortunes, maybe literally, are in the balance, and it’s adding to the experience.

    Part of the brilliance of the Rocky script is that Stallone realized this and brought Adrian into the arena.

    46:33
    Tony takes the first leg, then starts out strong in the second, putting up his first 180 in a long time.

    The commentators are pointing out that Tony O’Shea lost the Lakeside finals once in a 7-6 match. They’re invoking the possibility that he could be the first person to come back from being down 6-2 to win it, thus “exorcis[ing] a bucketful of demons tonight.” Win or lose, I suspect Tony O’Shea is going to exorcise a bucketful of chicken tonight.

    47:40
    Jill O’Shea is now standing up screaming. I assume it could be encouragement, but it could easily be about her need to pay the mortgage, such is her bug-eyed desperation.

    48:11
    DAMN IT! Tony just missed chances to go ahead two legs.

    But … Kist fails to close him out and O’Shea takes care of business. Phew. I am genuinely relieved.

    50:11
    Tony has remained on a roll. He’s just won his sixth leg in a row. One more and they’re all knotted up. Kist looks rattled.

    I learn that Kist works on a road crew in the Netherlands, laying tarmac for a living. This is fantastic news. Had I known that earlier, it may have swayed my rooting interest, such is my bias toward working-class sports heroes.

    “Can he find his rhythm again,” asks one of the commentators, “and get himself back on the road to the trophy?”

    Bam! Jokes.

    54:10
    Kist seems to have held serve/the darts and gone up 1-0 in the set. I have been preoccupied trying to come up with a road-crew-related nickname for Kist. I’m leaning toward something clean and simple like “The Steamroller.”

    55:12
    Oh no!

    O’Shea made what I’d imagine is the darts equivalent of Tony La Russa botching the phone call to the bullpen. He lost a game because he miscounted. He was throwing at the wrong target, thinking, it seems, he was setting himself up to zero-out in his next turn but, instead, left himself on an impossible number.

    The announcers went crazy: “Tony O’Shea! What were you doing????!”

    57:38
    Tony really is unraveling. He matches Kist’s opening 140 with a flaccid 43.

    Kist knocks down a 180. The announcers point out that he was a 66-1 underdog coming into the tournament. He’s only the 13th-ranked player in Netherlands.

    58:39
    Looking for a big number to stay in it, Silverback only manages an 83. As Kist steps to the line needing to hit two targets with three throws, Jill O’Shea shakes her head like she can’t believe she’s here again.

    Kist hits both throws.

    As Kist celebrates, the crowd chants “Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony,” lifting the big man’s spirits.

    Dignitaries from the British Darts Organisation and some sponsors give Kist the cup and a oversize check for £100,000. “The world of darts has a new superstar,” the announcer intones. “He’s 25. He’s bald. He’s Dutch. And he’s called Christian Kist.”

    Tony O’Shea, 50, also bald, from Stockport, receives his own check. It’s normal-size and for a highly respectable £30,000. He promptly folds it in half and shoves it into his wallet. The man’s got bills to pay and demons to exorcise.

    The Verdict:

    Darts isn’t for me. I like more strategy. I like gameplay variation. I like head-to-head competitions to be, more fully, competitions between two individuals whose skills and physical attributes fundamentally change how each person plays the game.

    Watching darts did make me want to play darts. I think it’s a good game. It didn’t make me want to watch any more darts, however. I don’t think it’s a good sport.

    That said, this is a different game than most. How many people at Lucas Oil Stadium watching the most recent Super Bowl had ever played a proper game of tackle football in their lives? And, outside of the current or recently retired professionals in the stands, how many people were watching the game thinking, I could do that? Thinking that they could’ve caught that pass that Welker dropped?

    The people in this Lakeside crowd had to be thinking this. Or, at the very least, that, if they’d just practiced more, if they didn’t have to work so hard, that could’ve been them up there. They’d each had nights at the pub, when they were just the right amount of drunk, when just the right song came on the jukebox at just the right time, and they could stand up to the line, roll the shaft of the dart between their fingertips, and know that they’d found just the right grip, knew just how their wrist needed to move, and just floated them in. One after another.

    I like that. It’s not my game. But I like that.

    Most sports dreams end with a man sitting at the end of a bar, imagining what could have been. Darts dreams begin with a man sitting at the end of a bar imagining what could be.


    Nate DiMeo (@thememorypalace) is the creator of the podcast The Memory Palace. He’s the co-author of Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America and a finalist for the Thurber Prize in American Humor.

Filed Under: Art, General topics, Olympics, Sports

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