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Manx darts marksmen and women pit their skills against world’s best 26 February 2008

Manx darters have the opportunity to pit their skills against some of the worlds best at next month’s three-day £20,000 Isle of Man International Darts Festival in Douglas (March 7-9).

With around two dozen of those who competed in January’s British Darts Organisation’s Lakeside world championship toeing the oche at the Villa Marina, it will be a good test for the island darts aces.

Top scalp on offer is world champ Mark Webster from Denbigh, who became only the third Welshman to lift the blue riband title of the sport, following in the footsteps of the late great Leighton Rees and Richie Burnett.

Seven of January’s quarter finalists are due to line up in Douglas, the only absentee is Australian Simon Whitlock.

In addition, former world number one Gary Anderson and defending Manx champ Gary Robson will be among the galaxy of top-names chasing the £5000 top prize.

Twelve months ago Robson was crowned Manx champion after toppling Phil Nixon – runner-up in the 2007 world championship.

But biggest cheer of the weekend could be reserved for one of the sport’s greatest characters - Andy ‘The Viking’ Fordham. After 12 months away from the oche, after being taken ill at the 2007 world championship, the popular 2004 world champ has shed several stones and is now making a determined bid to claw his way back into top flight darts.

Giving the event a distinctly international flavour this year will be a party of Swiss players, as well as competitors from Holland.

Spurred by their debut appearance in the World Cup in the Netherlands last Autumn, islanders will be keen to make their mark against leading marksmen from the mainland.

Last year the Manx players found the power-scoring and pinpoint accuracy of their opponents from the mainland too hot too handle. Islander Lee Freason played one of the biggest games of his career in his board final, squaring up to world number two and Scottish international Gary Anderson. Double trouble cost the Manx player the opening leg, Anderson firing out a 14 dart second leg but Freason blazed back with a 42 finish in the third leg after the Scot missed two shots at double tops. Freason hit 171 (a maximum on 19s) in the fourth leg to leave himself 90 after 12 darts but then missed the crucial match-saving double 12 as Anderson swept in to win through on his favourite double 20.

Fellow islander Geoff Hurst – from Douglas – also managed to reach the last 64, despite the tough opposition. He crashed to Cumbria’s Brian Woods 3-0. The player from the north east reached the last four in January’s world championship!

In addition to the prize-money on offer in the men’s championship (paid down to the last 64), there will be a £50 bonus for the Manx player progressing furthest in the tournament.

Running alongside the men’s singles on the Saturday will be the eagerly-awaited women’s singles.

Won last year by Welsh skipper Julie Gore, hot favourite for this year’s Manx title is world champion Russian Anastasia Dobromyslova – the first player from Eastern Europe to win the world title. Since ending the seven-year unbeaten run of “Golden Girl” Trina Gulliver at the Lakeside championship, the Russian sharpshooter has enjoyed a winning run, annexing the Dutch Open and Scottish Open titles.

Gulliver – twice a Manx champion – has meanwhile had a nightmare run by her sky-high standards, failing to reach the quarter finals in both competitions. She will be keen to get back to winning ways and lift her third Manx title.

But a plethora of top players including defending Manx champ Gore, former world number one Francis Hoenselaar plus Cumbrian Dee Bateman and Dutch player Karin Krappen – who played in January’s world championship – are among those with their eyes on the £3000 top prize in the women’s singles.

Last year the best Manx performance in the women’s singles came from Edith Duckworth. The Douglas-based left-hander reached her board final, where she came up against seven times world champion, Trina Gulliver. Gulliver romped to a 3-0 success, taking the opening leg with a 105 finish after firing home 140 and 100 scores. There was a further 140 and 121 in the next and she wrapped up the game in just 15 darts, including a maximum 180.

Prize money has been restructured this year with the last 64 winning cash.

In this the 23rd Manx championships, play starts on Friday evening with the mixed pairs competition and the Winmau Masters Youth Competition for 13-17 year olds (must not be 18 before October 15).

After Saturday’s men’s and ladies singles, the final day will see the men’s and women’s pairs competitions, followed by the finals of all competitions.

Tournament director Les France of LF Promotions said:

‘There has been intense interest in this year’s competition and both the men’s and women’s singles will boast a quality field with many of those who competed in January’s Lakeside world championships lining up at the Villa Marina. The Manx tournament is highly regarded amongst the players because of the generous prize purse. The addition of much sought after British Darts Organisation and World Darts Federation rankings points has boosted the prestige of the event. For the first time a party of Swiss darters will be travelling to compete alongside players from England, Wales, Scotland and Holland.’

Those wishing to play are asked to contact Les France as soon as possible on 0161 793 6909 (mobile 07974 806168) or Rob Corrin in the Isle of Man on 07624 459118.

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