Silly haircuts? Check. Overblown nicknames? Check. Big, sweaty men who shake their fists and shout “Yesss” at regular intervals? Check, check, check. Yes, there are a fair few similarities between the world darts championships and the world’s strongest man. But the big difference is the latter is a competitive activity which requires immense physical exertion. In other words, it is a sport. It is a cartoonish, pointless sport, but a sport nonetheless.
And in the 2013 strongest man final, broadcast from the Chinese resort of Sanya on New Year’s Eve – yep, no Gary Barlow infomercials for us on the biggest party night of the year – one event was even described as “absolutely ridiculous” by the show’s host, James Richardson. He was right. What man in his right mind would attempt to carry four barrels weighing over 1,000lb from one arbitrary point to another?
The simple answer is men with nicknames like “the Colossus from Colorado” and “The Young Viking”. Men who call 180-kilo barbells “not that heavy”. Men who pull trucks for fun.
The biggest drama of the final was the deadlift. The barbell was hilarious; all it needed was “10 tons” painted on the side to make it worthy of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. It was also ludicrously heavy. The winner, Brian Shaw, the aforementioned Colossus, lifted nigh on half a ton.
Shaw went on to win the final event, the Atlas stones, lifting four spheres of rock weighing up to 170kg, and with it the 2013 title. Afterwards he was revealed to be a former basketball player and an extremely affable chap. “I really had fun,” he said. “The guys are awesome and great competitors – they really made me work for this.”
We’d had fun as well. The commentators, Paul Dickenson and Colin Bryce, spoke in venerable tones about the competition as if it were the key to world peace, while Richardson captured the mood by gleefully marvelling at just how huge, hard or hot everything was.
The following night was the turn of the titans of the tungsten to strut their stuff in the PDC World Championship final. And what a final. Or, more to the point, what a build-up. We had scantily clad women, freshers’ week “party” music and finally the competitors: Michael van Gerwen, a gurning Dutchman who was 24 but looked as if he’d had a brutally hard paper round as a child, against Peter Wright. The latter was a Scotsman over 50 with a Mohican, a rainbow-coloured one-piece outfit and a snake painted on his head. And to all those who were cheering him on: he had a snake painted on his head, for goodness sake.
For all the plaudits that darts has received about its success, it has devolved into WWE wrestling without the exertion, muscles and fixed fights. Members of the audience even have giant foam fingers to waggle.
Amid the rivers of booze and surrounded by fancy dress, darts converts will argue until they are blue in the face that their favourite pub game is a serious sport. It’s not. It may be entertaining and is wildly successful, but it has no more of a chance of, say, getting into the Olympic Games than a truck-pulling contest. And at least the truck-pullers are not worrying about whether they are taken seriously.