So the 2012 Premier League certainly got underway with a bang, the first week ending with one of the best matches I’ve ever seen. You probably already know all about it, but just in case you don’t, double World Champ Adrian Lewis got off to a flyer, hitting 5 doubles with 5 darts to take a 5-0 lead over quintadecuple (that either means 15 times or I’ve just made it up, not sure which!) World Champ Phil Taylor. The Power then hit back with incredible scoring and finishing that would have destroyed most players whatever their lead, but Jackpot isn’t most players and the match ended with honours even at 7 games each.
But apart from the sheer quality of the darts, what particularly engaged my professional attention was the further evidence of the gulf in style between the two players many would rank as the two best in the world. To return to broad-brush terms I’ve used before (in “If It Ain’t Broke” and “Darts of Judgement”) it was a contest of the Lewis “Pure Talent” method against the Taylor “Ready, Aim, Fire” technique.
And it was a draw.
And that’s interesting.
It’s interesting because it might seem an incredible coincidence that two such different ways of throwing a dart should yield results that are equally exceptional (what is an oxymoron, anyway?). However, there is an explanation, part of which is that they are not really as different as all that.
With a “Ready, Aim, Fire” player like The Power, the feeling is that they are throwing directly at the target on a flat trajectory, almost like sniper. Using smaller flights can aid that feeling by helping their darts to land flatter. A “Pure Talent” player, on the other hand, can look like they’re hardly aiming at all, and their generally larger-flighted darts arrive at their destination nose-down in rapid succession, like arrows at the Battle of Agincourt.
But darts can land flatter to deceive, because in truth there won’t be a vast discrepancy in the actual trajectories of those two types of throw. Both will be near-parabolas due to the effects of gravity, which will cause a dart to drop maybe 50cms – nearly 20 inches - during its flight.
Of course that figure will be less for a faster throw - in fact (at the risk of scaring people off with a bit of maths, as I may have done last time with the phrase “classic crosswind deflection formula”!), it will reduce with the square of throw speed. But that means even a dart thrown 50% faster than average will drop over 20cms. And that’s still a lot to miss by!
Now The Power isn’t intentionally aiming 50cms – or even 20cms - high when he takes aim by levelling his dart at the treble 20, he’s relying on his subconscious to do the necessary trajectory calculation for him, just as much as is Jackpot when he casually flings his dart into the same target. The difference is just in their methods of accessing the muscle memory honed by hours of practice. And how much the top players practice is obviously driven by how much they need to, which is in turn a function of how good the competition. And that is the reason why the top players at a given sport tend to be of a similar standard – why it can take 6 hours of tennis to separate Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, to cite a recent example.
But every now and then a sporting legend will come along who is not just driven by the desire to beat the opposition, but by the desire never to lose and be as good as humanly possible at their chosen sport – for me squash stars Heather McKay (who remained unbeaten for 19 years) and Jahangir Khan (5 years) come to mind. A boxing fan might perhaps nominate Julio Cesar Chavez, a snooker aficionado Joe Davis.
So the question I’m going to sign off with is this: Who else would you add to that list? Phil Taylor, maybe? What do you think?