There's probably no such thing as home-board advantage in axe-throwing, and even if it exists, Wisconsin doesn't seem like such friendly turf for Minnesotans.
Yet the seven Minnesota throwers taking part in the World Axe Throwing Championships, which run Thursday through Sunday in Appleton, Wis., are willing to consider their neighboring state's targets a competitive advantage.
"There's no long-distance travel, and we'll have family in the stands," said David Lewis, who will compete in his third world championship event this weekend. "It's funny, it actually makes me a little more nervous."
Nerves are the sport's biggest enemy, since the science of successfully throwing axes — hatchets from 12 feet, big axes from 17 — is a measure of consistency under pressure, above all else. So perhaps competing in the upper Midwest, after COVID-era championships in Atlanta and Fort Worth, will deliver an influential edge over the weekend's competition.
The WATL championships are a one-on-one tournament of the top 256 qualified hatchet throwers, plus the best 128 big axe throwers and 128 knife throwers. There is also a two-thrower duals competition and, for the first time this year, a team event — the melee, with as many as 12 co-ed teammates rotating in the various disciplines — in hopes of adding to the crowd appeal of the tournament.
Austin Luecke, a 27-year-old engineer from Maple Grove, is the best bet for Minnesotans hoping to earn a championship at this year's tournament, entering the competition as the fifth-ranked hatchet-thrower in the world. Despite a snowboard accident that injured his throwing shoulder last winter, Luecke is also ranked fifth in the world in the duals competition, partnering with Lewis.
In addition, Brandon Bohn and Randy Hempel of Minneapolis will compete in the duals event, Olaf Lee of Minneapolis will throw in the knives competition, and Dustin Knight of St. Cloud will take part in the hatchet and big axe events, while his wife Niki Knight will also compete in hatchet throwing.