The 16-year-old who's become the U.K.'s unlikely sports icon

He is only 16. But Luke Littler has risen to sudden stardom in Britain with an unlikely run that has him on the verge of a world title.

Littler has become a sensation after making it into the World Darts Championship final as an unseeded player. Millions will be tuning in Wednesday to watch his bid to become the youngest winner of the sport’s most prestigious competition. 

The teenager — who goes by “Luke TheNuke Littler” on Instagram, where he has amassed a following of more than 500,000 — has outclassed world champions on his way to the final, winning the hearts of raucous crowds at London’s Alexandra Palace and viewers across the country over the holiday period. 

“No words! Crazy to think I’m in a World Championship final in my debut,” Littler told NBC’s U.K. partner network Sky Sports after his semifinal win against 2018 champion Rob Cross on Tuesday. “I was happy winning one game but I could go all the way!”

Littler’s fairy-tale ascent from youth world champion to the cusp of the senior title has transcended the world of darts, winning him fans and celebrity admirers across the U.K., with the British media dubbing him a “prodigy” on front pages.

English soccer stars have asked him to pose for photos, and a British prostate cancer charity celebrated Littler for wearing its logo on his shirt throughout the tournament and spreading awareness. 

But due to his age, little is known about the teen, and he has admitted that media attention is very new to him. The Professional Darts Corporation, or PDC, lists Littler on its website as born in 2007 and from the town of Warrington, in northern England. 

Last week Littler, who was number 164 in the PDC rankings, shared a video of himself playing darts at 18-months-old, while still wearing a diaper. 

“It’s completely unprecedented,” British darts commentator Rod Studd told NBC News. “What normally happens in darts is people develop their skill, develop their ability to play on big stages in front of TV cameras and huge crowds, and it takes a lot of time.”

But Littler managed to take the biggest stage in darts by storm. 

“People knew that Luke Littler was a promising talent and possibly a prodigiously promising talent,” Studd said. “He won the World Youth Championship earlier this year. But that’s a big step from what’s happening in the world championship against seasoned professional players that have won big tournaments many, many times.”

Luke Littler of England
Luke Littler of England in action Tuesday.Kin Cheung / AP

Match after match, Littler has performed at “stratospheric levels” usually seen from established elite-level players, Studd said, with supreme confidence where “nothing appears to bother him” under pressure. 

“It’s as if he is throwing darts in his own lounge room,” he said. “This boy is making this look so effortlessly easy.”

Littler’s combination of confidence, accuracy and style has won him an army of fans, Studd said, who may not have even known him just weeks ago when the tournament kicked off. 

A former junior coach told British public broadcaster the BBC on Wednesday that he recognized Littler’s talent before he was 11. “’I’d say he’s the Ronaldo of darts,” Karl Holden said. “He is a freak of nature.”

If he wins Wednesday, Littler will become the youngest world champion in PDC history, Studd said, with Dutch player Michael van Gerwen winning the title at age 24 in 2014. 

“Twenty-four was considered young, so 16 is just beyond belief,” he added. 

The teenager told Sky Sports he will prepare for the final the way he does for any match, namely by eating a ham-and-cheese omelet in the morning, followed by a pizza and then practice later in the day. He has also told the BBC that he loves to celebrate his wins with a good kebab. 

He will face fellow English player Luke Humphries in Wednesday’s final, where they will compete for a 500,000-pound ($631,000) prize. Littler has already guaranteed himself a minimum of 200,000 pounds ($252,000) in prize money, according to the PDC. 

Humphries said ahead of the match that he thought Littler was “scarily good” when he played him when Littler was just 12 years old. 

“He has shown that he is the real deal and regardless of what happens tomorrow, he has got a massive bright future,” Humphries said Tuesday. 


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