John Olson, left, of Rhinelander and Luke Statezny of Antigo pose with the championship trophies and check after winning the Menís Cricket Doubles event at the BullShooter 34 World Challenge of Champions dart tournament in Chicago May 27, 2019. Olson participated in eight events at this yearís BullShooter, winning two titles and placing in two other events. (Submitted photo)
7/9/2019 7:33:00 AM Rhinelander man wins titles at world dart tournament
What started with a whim has led a Rhinelander man to win championships at his sport's biggest event.
A nearly 13-year journey in the world of darts for John Olson reached the pinnacle in late May as Olson was part of two championship performances at the BullShooter 34 World Challenge of Champions held near Chicago.
Olson and teammate Luke Statezny from Antigo took home titles in two divisions at the event, which is the darts' equivalent of the World Series of Poker.
The two won the men's cricket doubles title and teamed with Carrie Champagne of Crivitz to win the mixed triples 701 event.
In all, Olson competed in eight events at BullShooter 34, placed in four of the competitions and won $2,480 in prize money.
Olson qualified for the event, held Memorial Day weekend near Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, through a Wisconsin regional last September.
Given the choice between competing in the BullShooter or the state championships held one week earlier, Olson and Statezny decided to try their hand at the BullShooter.
"We're like, 'Why not go down to Chicago and try to win as much money as we can,'" Olson said.
Olson has fared well in a number of adult sports, his name showing up in box scores in local leagues in several games - including pool and bowling. Olson said shooting pool was more of his thing back in mid-2000s. That changed in 2006 when he took his sister to a dart tournament in town. In need of an extra player for the doubles event, the organizers talked Olson into playing. He won his first tournament and the rest is history.
"I realized, 'Hey, I've got some good hand-eye coordination,' he said.
Olson said he took the sport very seriously between 2008 and 2011. During that time he won two state championships in Minnesota, placed in the top two in six events at BullShooter Wisconsin regionals and, in 2010, had a runner-up finish in the Open Masters Single Cricket event at the National Dart Association Tournament in Las Vegas.
He also competed in the BullShooter twice. He placed fourth in Pro Cricket Doubles and tied for seventh in Pro 501 Doubles at BullShooter 26 and tied for fifth in Mixed Triples at BullShooter 24.
"I was probably shooting 1 1/2-to-2 hours every day - going through different sets of darts, trying new sets all the time," he said.
Work caused Olson to slow down a bit, although he still won a state Division 4 Doubles 301 title in 2013. He started playing the game more seriously again over the past couple of years, which led him back to the BullShooter this spring, which he described as a darting spectacle.
"There's women's events. There's men's events. There's pro events. There's amateur events. Then there's all these little side tournaments," he said. "You could go down there on a Thursday and shoot, probably non-stop, from nine in the morning until midnight every day if you wanted to. It's a huge deal down there."
After failing to place in Thursday's men's team event, Olson got in the Top Gun Men's singles event, finishing tied for third with, none other than his normal shooting partner Statezny. The two were on a collision course to play each other in the championship match before getting knocked out in the semifinals. Later in the tournament, Olson made the round of 32 in the Men's 501 Singles event.
On Sunday, the fourth day of the event, Olson, Statezny and Champagne took the Mixed Triples 701 event which, as the name implies, involves teams of three people competing head-to-head to be the first to reach exactly 701 points. The Wisconsin team beat the team of New Jersey shooters Marc Marchesani and Connor Martin, and Chicago's Heidi Schraeder in the finals.
"That was her first time ever there. That was Luke's first time ever there. We shot with (Champagne) locally. Me and Luke shot triples with her in Green Bay one time at a local tournament. We knew her and she shot fantastic. I was more happy for her," Olson said.
Back at it on Memorial Day, Olson and Statezny tried their hand at the Men's Cricket Doubles event. Unlike 301/501/701 games, in cricket the object is to score as many points as possible by hitting certain sections of the board - traditionally the 15-20 targets and the bull's-eye - more than your opponent. Olson and Statezny lost in the second round of the event and were relegated to the losers bracket. From there, the two had to win nine one-game matches to work their way back to the finals.
"The cricket doubles was intense," Olson said.
Even the championship match was intense. Playing the Ohio pairing of Luke Kollias and Kevin Yasenchak, Olson and Statezny won the first match to force, what they thought was a one-game match for the championship. They won that game and the celebration was on, until tournament officials clarified that each match in the finals was a best of three series.
"They had already handed us the big check and the trophy and everything and they took them away," Olson said. "That was very awkward. It was nerve-racking for sure. You're on the big stage. They've got one main stage there and probably about 200 some dartboards in this big hall, and then the big stage with a 120-inch projection screen behind so everybody could stand and watch. That was fun. It was a blast. It was the most excitement I've had shooting darts, heart-pounding."
Olson keeps his game sharp by practicing at home. He said he has three dartboards at his house, two of which are set up to play online games against anyone around the world. At the competitive level, Olson said the biggest challenge is handling the nerves that come with playing against some of the best dart players around the country and the world.
"If you're going up against someone and you're like, 'Hey, he's from Florida and he's won several state titles. He's won world titles before,' to keep your pressure in check is the hard thing. Say, 'Hey, you're just as good as he is, don't let the nerves overtake you,'" he said.
Because Olson placed in the top three at BullShooter Wisconsin Regional, he's back on the pro list, just like he was from 2008-2017. That will allow him a chance to compete in the professional events and next year's BullShooter, if he chooses to attend.
"We're going to play it by ear," he said of his and Statezny's plans. "We'll probably go back to worlds and shoot the pro events next year. That's what our plan is. If that falls through, we'll probably team up and go back to Wisconsin State again next year."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce