Unlike lots of darts players, Germany’s Gabriel Clemens is a man of few words.
“Pretty empty at the moment,” he answered when asked by the over-excited TV presenter how he felt after knocking out defending champion Peter Wright at the PDC World Darts Championship in London at the weekend.
Clemens, the first German to compete at an event dominated by Britons, said he just wanted to get to bed. The 37-year-old reached the round of 16 thanks to a shock 4-3 win.
“Gaga,” as his friends call him, looks quite different to Wright, the eccentric Scot with the orange and red mohawk (on this particular night).
“I took my chances,” the German said soberly of the dramatic duel at London’s Alexandra Palace. “In the end, it was enough.”
Reaching the third round of the World Championship was already the biggest success in Clemens’ darts career. He started playing in 2001, at that time just as a hobby with friends in the pub. He then began competing in tournaments, and in 2014 and 2017 became German champion with the Kaiserslautern Darts Club.
Clemens was soon making international appearances. In 2017, he became the first German player to reach the semifinals of the World Masters, the oldest major tournament still held, in the British seaside resort of Bridlington.
Until February 2019, Clemens earned his money as an industrial mechanic in his native Saarland in western Germany. Then the trained locksmith took a leave of absence from his employer, first for one year and then for another, in order to devote himself entirely to darts.
Gabriel Clemens is congratulated by Peter Wright after his giant-killing win at the Alexandra Palace in London
His career picked up even more speed and at the moment it seems rather unlikely that the 1.95 meter (6′ 4″) tall “German Giant” – as Clemens is called in the darts scene – will go back to his overalls in the foreseeable future.
If he did go back to his old job, he probably wouldn’t have a problem with it.
Clemens is not an entertainer who seeks the spotlight like some of his rivals.
“Darts is not the most important thing in my life,” he said. “There are more important things: health, family, the people who are around me.”
Those include Lisa Heuser, his girlfriend, who is now also his manager. Clemens has changed his diet, largely avoiding foods containing carbohydrates. He has already lost more than 20 kilograms (44 pounds), belying the image that darts players drink beer while playing and are often out of shape.
He trains several hours a day. And like all top darts players, Clemens also has a mental coach.
“Eighty percent takes place in the head,” he said about the mental toughness and quick maths needed to excel at darts.
Clemens believes to thrive, a darts player must stay focused, get the pulse down, breathe calmly – and don’t let the hustle and bustle around the competition stage bother you.
Normally, around 3,000 spectators turn Alexandra Palace – popularly known as “Ally Pally” – into something akin to a circus.
The alcohol flows and fans, often in fancy dress, whistle and shout. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the darts party has also fallen flat. Initially, 1,000 fans were going to be allowed to watch the World Championship live in the hall, with a ban on singing and a safe distance between the tables.
The glitz of darts does not really suit the introverted Clemens, who prefers having no spectators at all
But by mid-December, even this idea was impossible and it was decided that no spectators could be permitted for the entire three-week tournament. The fan chants are played from tape.
But the ghostly atmosphere suits the introverted Clemens. During the pandemic, he says he “always did a little better” in tournaments with no spectators at all.
He has already secured prize money of £35,000 (€38,650, $47,000) by reaching the World Championship round of 16.
His next opponent is Krzysztof Ratajski from Poland, who is ranked 15th in the world. Clemens, currently ranked 31st, is the outsider. But “Gaga” proved against defending champion Wright that this role suits him.
After his success, the TV presenter asked him how far he could go in the World Championship. Clemens replied in his usual matter-of-fact manner: “No idea. I’ll worry about that tomorrow.”
Adaptation: Mark Meadows