Once upon a time, the Christmas/New Year period was something of a sporting wasteland. Now it’s far from the case; there’s local and international cricket, the baseball newcomers with the Tuatara (even if the commentary is hard work), the usual American buffet of the NFL, NBA, and NHL, and football from both Australasia and Europe.
But there’s one event that’s unlike the rest, the PDC World Darts Championship. Every session at the Alexandra Palace in North London is packed out, invariably every punter is in fancy dress, and the place is raucous. It’s basically what the Sevens were, only that it goes in for two weeks. It’s the title that the players want to win the most.
It’s also the place where both the best and unknowns can have their place in the spotlight. A few years ago, Kapiti’s own Rob Szabo took the opening set of his match against Phil Taylor, the greatest dartsmith to ever stand at the oche. More recently there’s been Michael van Gerwen coming within millimetres of consecutive nine-dart legs – where one is the sport’s Holy Grail equal to a golf hole-in-one – and the unheralded Rob Cross beating both van Gerwen and then Taylor, the latter playing in his very last match, to win the crown.
This year, the story has been a 25-year-old from Milton Keynes by the name of Fallon Sherrock.
In sport once defined by handles of lager and bushfire levels of cigarette smoke, Sherrock has broken the sport’s last glass ceiling by winning matches on the game’s greatest stage; firstly beating Ted Evetts and then secondly with a partisan crowd behind her all the way taking out #11 seed Mensur Suljovic, finishing the match with a stone cold bull.
Don’t let the blonde locks and pink shirt fool you. Sherrock made her debut in the opposing British Darts Organisation’s Women’s Worlds at 19 and was runner-up the next year. But even then she’d already won Women’s titles, and before this week had won 32 women’s titles on her resume. And amongst all that, she is also a mother to her 5-year-old son.
But the BDO doesn’t have near the profile that the PDC does, who have the best players and the biggest events, though they did have a Women’s World Championship, unlike the PDC. In part that changed last year, when PDC boss Barry Hearn made the decision to guarantee two of the 96 places at the Alexandra Palace to women. Women had never been specifically excluded, but Hearn’s decision gave them a path.
By making such a splash, Sherrock is proving that the best women players can compete on equal footing with their male counterparts. Darts is a sport of skill and repetition where strength isn’t a factor, making it gender-neutral. And it’s not that Evetts or Suljovic played poorly as Sherrock put up numbers equal to anyone; against Evetts she hit six 180’s and 140 or better 13 more times, and against Suljovic she hit 69% of her doubles and averaged 15 darts per winning leg.
She may not make it past the next round, or she might win the whole thing. Maybe she forces Hearn into having a Women’s Championship of their own, played concurrently and allowing the women to also play in the main event.
But either way, she’s earned the title of Queen of the Palace.
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