At 16, Luke Littler became a phenomenon without even becoming a world darts champion

His preparation is surprising: “In the morning, I'll have a ham and cheese omelette, then a pizza and then I work out

At 16, Luke Littler became a phenomenon without even becoming a world darts champion

His preparation is surprising: “In the morning, I'll have a ham and cheese omelette, then a pizza and then I work out. » A teenage diet for an extraordinary athlete. At 16, Luke Littler played the final of the World Darts Championship on Wednesday January 3, at 9 p.m., against Luke Humphries, fellow Englishman and world number 1, at Alexandra Palace, in London. The boy, who has become a phenomenon for the British, is the youngest competitor to reach the final since the creation of the competition in 1978.

The story begins on December 20 and justifies his nickname "Luke the Nuke". The native of Runcorn, in the northwest of England, who only records four senior matches, enters the scene and dispatches his opponent of the day. Bis repeated in the second and third rounds. In the next confrontation, he faces one of the references of the discipline and his idol, the Dutchman Raymond van Barneveld, five-time world champion. Regardless of his opponent's record, Luke Littler won 4 sets to 1 before winning 5 to 1 in the quarter-finals. “It’s like playing against a robot,” analyzes Raymond van Barneveld. In the last four, Luke Littler defeated Rob Cross (6-2). Although he lost in the final (7-4) on Wednesday evening against the best player in the world, Luke Humphries, the young man is already writing the history of his sport.

The public sings to him that he has school the next day

On the shooting range, his attitude is disconcerting. If his skill is remarkable – the main quality of a shooter – it is his calmness which impresses. After his “double 10” which sent him to the final, a modest manifestation of joy: two arms raised just as quickly lowered. Behind him, the 10,000 costumed spectators gathered at “Ally Pally”, the Mecca of darts fans, sing Chase the Sun, the championship anthem. The public has found its new darling but it does not hesitate to joke about it by singing to it that it has school the next day. In the arena, apneas and outpourings of joy follow one another.

“The World Darts Championship has become an end-of-year institution,” recalls the weekly The Economist. An unbridled mix of costume party and high-level sport. » A success that Barry Hearn, promoter of the competition, explains by the singularity of darts: “Where can you have a young plumber rub shoulders with a banker with Prince Harry? », he wrote in his autobiography.

Because far from a simple bar sport, darts (“darts” in English) is located “at the heart of the British joke industrial complex” where virilism pushed by alcohol merchants, betting sites and sport have found a “niche profitable,” reports The Economist. All broadcast live throughout the United Kingdom: it is one of the Sky Sports channels, renamed Sky Sports Darts for the occasion, which broadcasts the world championship. The semi-final between Rob Cross and Luke Littler attracted 1.79 million viewers, peaking at over 2.3 million. This attention benefits the two semi-finalists, who have already won more than 200,000 euros in victory bonuses. The envelope reaches 570,000 euros in the event of a final victory.

A popularity that leads to excesses

This exposure catapulted Luke “the Nuke” to superstardom. First, at his old training club St Helens, between Liverpool and Manchester, which he joined at the age of 9. “The number of kids who come into my store saying they want to be the next Luke Littler is incredible,” Karl Holden, co-founder of the St Helens Darts Academy, told the Guardian.

Then on a national scale: from a few thousand subscribers on Instagram before the World Cup, Luke Littler now has half a million. Players from the Premier League, the top English football division, have expressed their support for him, the English press, including the most serious, devote articles to him, and his favorite club, Manchester United, invited him to attend one of his matches in his legendary Old Trafford stadium.

This unexpected celebrity has its share of fantasies, even excesses. If Luke Littler had been crowned world champion, the Kebhouze fast-food restaurant in London had promised to offer him kebabs for life, another culinary indulgence of the prodigy. Faced with his precocity, doubts emerged about the veracity of his age until a photo of his birth certificate was posted online by a British media confirming that he was born on January 21, 2007.

The teenager even had to apologize after the release of a photo in which he is seen holding a copy of the Sun: the tabloid has been boycotted in his native region since its coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy. In April 1989, 97 people were killed in a crowd before a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. With this sudden notoriety, Luke Littler already no longer completely belongs to himself, he who was not even born at the time of the tragedy.