Darts: Lowe the ice-cool champion: Guy Hodgson watches experience prevail over a nervy first-time finalist at the World Darts Championship

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The Independent Online
THE cognoscenti refer to it as being the bridesmaid. Win the Embassy World Darts Championship final and people remember, lose it and you are left with the tossed bouquet. No one had been cast in the supporting role more often than John Lowe.

When he met Alan Warriner in the climax of the world championships at the Lakeside Country Club, Frimley Green, last night it was the eighth time Lowe had reached the final and, as the more polite would put it, he is well versed in coping with disappointment. Five times he had been runner-up; last night's 6-3 victory made it his third title.

With a double 13 the 47-year- old from Derbyshire extended his record of being the oldest champion he first claimed in 1987. He won pounds 30,000, Warriner collected pounds 15,000 to soothe the disappointment in his performance. 'I just couldn't do it,' he said sadly.

The let-down can be severe. Jocky Wilson, a man no-one would describe as soft, has openly wept when he has lost in the world championships. Even Eric Bristow, whose opening gambit in press conferences used to be: 'Who do you want to slag off now?' has shed a tear.

Not that Lowe, a participant in every Embassy championship since its inauguration in 1978, would expose more than a flicker of emotion. 'Old Stoneface' is his nickname and no matter whether he has hit 180 or an adjoining table his reaction barely alters. A slight smile, a quick lick of the fingers and he is throwing again.

'Darts,' Bobby George, a semi- finalist here, said last week, 'is a game of bullying.' Not the overt gesture, although Eric Bristow was warned for making threatening motions towards Denmark's Per Skau in these championships, but the sort of psychological thwack around the self-confidence that invokes an involuntary twitch in an opponent. An inch is like a mile on the dartboard and if the throwing arm quivers, all is lost. 'They can all throw 180s,' Bristow said in his pomp, 'but they can't do it against me.' Turn up the pressure and the scoring goes on the back-burner.

For the final, the subliminal scaring begins hours before an arrow is thrown in anger. Lowe and Warriner were side by side at the practice board in the players' room swapping darts and stories. 'How's the family?' 'Have you heard about. . . .' Each inquiry designed to conceal the nerves; each answer an exercise in nonchalance.

Then the doors are are thrown open and the finalists are exposed to the crowd. The noise shakes the mock chandeliers. It is like sitting the hard core of The Kop at tables and allowing them the liberty to shout as loud as they like. Chants, songs, it plays hell on any nervy participant.

Lowe was implacable, the edginess that must have been with him in what might have been his last chance at the world title, hidden by the mask. Warriner, in his first final, was the first to fall prey to his self-doubts. He took the first leg but then his attempt at a finishing total of five landed in the 20. Lowe, scenting blood, took the leg with a double 16 and then reeled off a further two legs to take the first set 3-1.

'It's the consistency that kills them,' Sid Waddell, the BBC TV commentator had said. 'Other players are more mercurial but John Lowe weighs them down with ton after ton.' Through enough smoke to hide a battleship Lowe was bearing down on his opponent.

Warriner, a 30-year-old psychiatric nurse from Lancaster, was as taut as a drum. Where he had been peppering the treble 20 in the practice room, he was now finding singles and worse. 'His rhythm has gone,' Waddell said over the dozens of televisions round the Lakeside, 'he can't get it going like he did earlier in the week.' Three of the next four sets went Lowe's way, and he led 4-1 at the interval.

It is only a five minute-break but finals have been lost in that time. In the players' room Lowe paced up and down, while Warriner looked dolefully at his right hand, willing it to obey his eyes. Even Bristow, who had been holding court at a table a few yards from the bar, kept a respectful quiet.

A quick trip to the toilet, a couple of gulps at the glass and they were on stage again. The statistics were revealing: Lowe had been outscoring his opponent at the rate of eight points a dart; Warriner did not get a double 16, a favoured check-out, until the sixth set.

Professional darts players regard anything less than a return of 100 at each trip to the board as a handicap and Warriner was regularly bringing back 45s and 60s.

A flicker of hope came Warriner's way when he won two sets in succession but Lowe regained his composure and finished off match. Experience had told. Lowe had not been left at the church.

(Photograph omitted)

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