Darts: the “pantomime villain” turns into a superstar

Darts: the “pantomime villain” turns into a superstar

Less than a decade ago, Gerwyn Price was a rugby professional who used to play hooker for Neath and the Glasgow Warriors, said James Corrigan in The Daily Telegraph. Today, in what must surely rank as one of the greatest ever “cross-sport transformations”, he has ascended to the top rank of a very different sport. Six years after taking the game up professionally, the 35-year-old Welshman has won the PDC World Darts Championship, defeating Gary Anderson of Scotland in Sunday’s final. Known as “The Iceman” because of his unflappable finishing, Price spent most of the contest justifying that moniker: he threw with such unerring accuracy he opened up a 6-1 lead. Then all of a sudden, “as so often happens to first-timers at the point of glory”, his assuredness deserted him. On 11 occasions, he missed chances to clinch the match, and Anderson recovered and clawed his way back to 6-3. At 2-2 in an agonisingly tense tenth set, a double five gave Price victory. “I’ve never felt pressure like that in my life,” he admitted afterwards.

Renowned for his “sense of utter certainty”, Price entered the arena at Alexandra Palace “puffing out his sizeable chest like a man barging straight to the front of the queue at Sports Direct”, said Jonathan Liew in The Guardian. And he proceeded to put in a performance of often staggering brilliance: in the sixth set, he narrowly missed a nine-dart leg (the darts equivalent of a 147 break in snooker) and during that set averaged 136.64 – the highest ever in a world championship final. Yet his victory was notable not just for its emphatic manner, but also for what it portends. In recent times, darts has been dominated by Michael van Gerwen, who has enjoyed an unbroken stretch as World No. 1 reaching back to 2014. With this victory, Price displaces the Dutchman at the top of the rankings; the sport finally has a “new superstar” capable of challenging his supremacy.

XPrice may not prove a popular champion, said Gary Jacob in The Times. His brash celebrations at the oche – and regular disputes with rivals – have made him a figure darts fans “love to hate”. That’s why the absence of crowds at this year’s world championship arguably suited him very well, said Rob Maul in The Sun: he was able to play his matches without the chorus of boos and jeers that have frequently greeted him in the past. During the final, Price toned down some of his customary excesses, which perhaps signals that he wants to move on from his role as “pantomime villain”. It will be fascinating to see how fans “greet the reigning world darts champion when they are finally let back in”.

 

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