Women dart at male egos

Liz Searl reports on last night's unusual qualifying competition at Earls Court
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The Independent Online
Male egos were left bruised but intact last night, when for the first time female darts players were allowed in to the qualifying rounds for the Embassy World Professional Darts Championship.

Out of 11 women who took up the challenge for a place at Frimley Green, in the New Year, 10 failed to make it past the first knock-out round, with England's Deta Hedman losing in the group quarter-finals.

Nevertheless, competition was tight and male egos were on the line. Those who beat the ladies were complimentary, but those who failed were, it seemed, humiliated.

"I'm sorry, I can't talk to you now, or it will be full of swear words," said England's John Hook, who had expected an easier game against Hedman than her surprise 2-0 win.

Then,much to the disappointment of the large crowd of male darts players round the oche, Hedman faltered against Garry Spedding.

"I think almost every bloke in the room was willing me to get through," Hedman said after her 2-0 defeat. "It wasn't the same class as my game against John. I feel I made a good account of myself - though I'll be back next year aiming for the finals."

A surprise loser in the first round was England's Mandy Solomon, who this season became the first woman ever to throw a nine-dart 501 in competition. She was seen off by Robert Hughes who was impressed by her quality of play.

"I thought she played brilliantly, much better than I expected, but I think I was under more pressure than she was," he said.

In fact, the world No 3 Solomon missed out only when her nerves failed her in the final points of each game. "I kept up with him, but I was shaking at the last. Maybe I'll do better next year with less attention and pressure."

Even Francis Hoenselaar, the women's world No 1, perished instantly, beaten 2-0 by Ian Jones from England.

Hoenselaar had earlier said she would rather not play mixed games in this competition. "For the past five years we have been campaigning for our own separate competition run alongside the men's world championships. Joining the two together like this was something of a surprise."

A surprise indeed for some players, who later expressed their opinion of the fairer sex's talent. "Hell, she hit three 180s and it nearly finished me," sighed Wayne Palfrey after a narrow 2-0 win against Germany's Heike Ernst.

The only players who seemed negative had been on the oche with Hedman - and they made swift exits from the room away from the television cameras.

"But could you face it down the pub if you were the guys that Deta beat?" Leighton Rees, a former world champion, asked in their defence.

"Look, mate," said Ronnie Sharpe, fresh from a 2-0 victory against Denmark's Gerda Sogaard. "You want to be in my position. The wife's a county player and I've got used to being beaten all the time."

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