Darts star Michael Smith has opened up about the motivations and secrets behind his remarkable lockdown body transformation and also the impact it could have on his family life, career and retirement age.
Millions have struggled with their ‘lockdown body’ over the past few months so it came as quite a surprise when a darts player – rather than the usual kind of 'celebrity' - took the internet by storm with his defiance of the global weight gain trend.
Michael Smith's pictures of his incredible body transformation even received more social media love than his first ever televised nine-dart finish earlier this season, although somewhat typical of Twitter there were some who accused him of posting images of two different people.
Bully Boy has shifted well over two and a half stone since February and will head to the PDC’s Summer Series this week and the World Matchplay later this month weighing in at 16 stone 4lbs.
“Two years ago on my honeymoon I was about 20 stone and embarrassed of myself," Smith told Sporting Life Darts. "It was the heaviest I’d ever been but during my holiday in Thailand back in January I was 18 stone 10lbs.
“Now, I’m 16 stone four but I’d not weighed myself all the way through this. It was only when I saw a photo from Thailand the other day and I thought ‘you fat mess!’ I still think I’m fat but when I saw the difference between photos I was amazed how much I’ve lost.
"Of course it was well received by most but some people it was well received but others were just plain stupid, claiming the pictures weren’t both me! They said the tattoos on the arms were different but that’s because they were showing different arms!"
The PDC’s video of his first ever televised nine-darter during the Premier League earlier this season – which they posted to their 300,000 followers - received a whopping 34,000 likes but his weight loss picture blew that out of the water with well over 50k likes.
The world number five added: "How many followers do they have compared to me? I only have about 70,000 so it’s incredible really – I can’t wait until I get more shredded and I can take an even better one!”
However, trying to one day rival Gerwyn Price as having the best body in darts is certainly not the motivation behind his new look and future targets. Nor is it about the potential benefits it may have on his performances and stamina at the oche.
Instead, Smith is focusing on an improved family life and the bigger overall career picture that could feasibly lead to an early retirement by the time he’s in his mid-40s.
At 29, the five-time major runner-up is getting wiser with his growing experience as one of the leading stars of the sport and believes improving his image will lead to doors of other lucrative opportunities to open while he's operating at the upper echelons of the game.
After all, even he accepts there’s no guarantees for how long a player can stay there.
He said: “I want to be more than just a dart player. I know that’s my main job but these days you have to look at your brand appeal. A fat lazy dart player wasn’t the best way to look was it?!
“You see other sports stars getting great sponsorship deals and thousands of pounds just for being pictured with a drink of Lucozade! My darts career isn’t going to last forever – I could even get injured tomorrow - so hopefully I can get the better brand deals and the other opportunities sooner than later.
“Throughout lockdown we’ve been doing more work on merchandising for my fanbase so a better image and branding would really help build my name a lot more than it is now.
“You have to make the right career choices in life. When I was younger, it was all about winning and spending money but now I have to think about investing it and earning it away from darts.
“I’ll have to retire from darts one day but will I have enough money to do that when I want to? So far I’ve never invested in anything apart from the house that we live in. Everything else I spent because I was young and I’d never had that kind of money before.
“I was talking to Michael van Gerwen about retirement and he wants to be about 40-45 when he does it, whereas I was looking at around 50. But then I thought that’s a bit old to do everything I’d want to do.
“Phil Taylor was in his mid 50s and although he’s not ‘old’ he can’t do the kind of things you can when you’re quite a bit younger. Darts takes up so much of your time so by the time I’m in my mid 40s I’d like to travel and spend more fun time with my kids when they’re still late teenagers.
“If I leave it until I’m mid 50s, my son Junior will be about 30 himself by then with a family of his own!”
Smith is well aware how fortunate he is to be competing in such a lucrative era in the sport’s history which means younger players like him won't probably need to play as long as those before them for financial reasons.
“I saw the article in the Sun the other day about Mervyn King working for Amazon delivering parcels and when they mentioned his career earnings of £1.7million from darts, I realised I’ve earned more already.
“He’s been a pro for 30-odd years and I’ve only been professional for around eight or nine. That’s how mad the money has got in the game and it’s been going up and up every year.
“When I reached the World Championship final, I made £200,000 for a few weeks’ work. At the time I thought ‘what am I meant to do with this lump sum’ and instead of investing it I was stupid to spend a lot of it.
“Now I’m looking at the overall picture and wanting to retire at a younger age.”
Smith, who has also finished runner-up in the Premier League, Masters, World Series of Darts Finals and last year's World Matchplay, is keen for up and coming players in the game to get advised better about the potential incoming riches but ideally he thinks it would start in school.
He said: “I keep in contact with one of my old history teachers who still comes to the darts to watch me. And we’ve spoken about how someone should go into schools and give life lessons about taxes, bills, VAT forms and self-assessments and other things like that.
“When I left school I was on £30 per week doing joinery but then concentrated on darts and started earning £500 per week, then £1000 per week and £5000 per week. I didn’t know what to do with it! I could still live off £30 per week.
“I was stupid and spent a lot of it but about three years ago when I got dropped from the Premier League I had a terrible year. I played about 26 Pro Tour events and only got past the first round five times but my spending habits didn’t changed from when I was winning a lot and all my money started to disappear.
“This is what kids need to understand when they come into darts – or any other sport for that matter.
“I could fall out of the top 16 if I have a bad year or two again and it could take a while to climb back up, so this is why I need to improve my brand at this stage of my career.
“Being in the top 16 means you’re guaranteed decent money by qualifying for the big majors but it is hard to stay there. You’ll see plenty of players such as Wes Newton and Andy Hamilton who drop out and struggle to climb back. It does take its toll to adjust to reduced earnings.
Spending better quality time with his young sons, who run rings round him already, is also a key reason for his loses of another kind of pounds.
He said: “I want to be more of a hands-on dad as well, and not a side-line one. I have a big massive rugby pitch facing my house and fields at the back, so when the kids are out playing, I was running around with them for about five minutes then had to stop for a smoke!
“I want to be able to play with them for at least a few hours because my kids don’t stop – they’ve got rockets up their backsides!"
As for the secret of his weight loss, it's been a lot simpler, safer and cheaper than fad crash diets or a celebrity endorsed exercise regime.
He said: “Coming away from darts has actually helped. On tour you finish late and at that time the only things open are pizza shops, McDonalds or anything like that.
“I’ve not dieted at all, just eating a at better times and heating proper cooked home food. When I’m at darts I don’t eat all day because I think it makes me nervous but then I’ll have a kebab at 11pm and go to bed.
"I was also drinking six bottles of Lucozade a day but that’s gone now and I’ve replaced it with 20p bottles of soda water and Vimto cordial.
“We've also been out for lots of long walks together as a family in the fields and countryside near where we live for about 10 to 15 kilometres a day. When they’re not with me I’ll run some of it to keep my heart rate up.
“The gyms may not be open but gardening and house work have kept me busy. At the start of lockdown I was lazy because I didn’t think we’d be coming back to work any time soon but then I saw some St Helens players training in front of my house. They weren’t returning to action either so that motivated me to get active.
“I think for my height and age 13 stone isn’t classed as obese but don’t mind if I’m a bit overweight. It’s just being stupidly overweight that I don’t want to be. When the gyms reopen I’ll hope to tone up a bit more.”
Rob Cross also reduced his weight dramatically after his disappointing World Championship and many felt that led to some sluggish performances at the start of the year due to balance and distribution issues when throwing.
However, Smith insists he doesn’t think he’ll be affected in the same way due to his drastic losses being more gradual and the fact he’s been practicing hard every step of the way.
“I’ve been practicing every day through the change – it’s not as if I’ve lost loads of weight and now coming back to darts. Everyone thinks I’ll struggle but my body and throw have been adjusting together."
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