Ashley Glover from Ashford in Wicklow was part of a four-strong Irish team at the axe throwing world championships in Germany last month. Glover reveals plans to expand the sport in Ireland and even host a world championships here.
Q: It was the first time an Irish team has competed in the world championships so your results sound pretty impressive.
A: We were up against fifth-generation lumberjacks from Canada who were telling us they compete for a living and had been picked from a pool of 1,800 candidates.
And then there was the four of us who practised every Thursday night and we don’t even have a permanent range. Honestly, it was like an amateur winning Wimbledon.
Q: Three top 20 finishes must have been beyond any of your ambitions?
A: We were convinced we would go out in the first round but we kept on progressing. I had booked my flight home for the Saturday night, never thinking I’d be competing in the final on Sunday.
Unfortunately, our fourth thrower, Leigh Standing, broke his axe and also suffered a nasty spider bite. I would have called him our best thrower. He would do better than me in training. So there is a strong chance he could have broken into the top 10 if he hadn’t been unlucky.
Q: What was the secret to your unexpected progress?
A: Firstly, most of the guys we were up against over there were purely muscle. Throwing an axe 20 feet at a two-inch target repetitively for four days takes its toll, and that was starting to show on some of the bigger guys on the fourth day.
All four of us have fairly good fitness levels and I think we could have kept going if we had progressed.
Q: What kind of atmosphere did you experience at the championships?
A: The event was actually hosted by a German motorbike club. The way I’d describe it is as if Wimbledon was hosted by a biker gang. A weird mix. You had all these bikers covered in tattoos with polite applause after throws.
Q: Why is it that all four members were from Wicklow?
A: At the minute it’s the only axe throwing club in Ireland. but we have been in contact with a crowd in Tuam who are planning on opening a club out that direction. And there’s
another set to form in Dublin. The world championships did wonders for publicity of the sport. Shayne Phelan who owns Eagle Ridge, which focuses around survival activities, introduced us to a lot of similar things like blacksmithing and woodwork.
A few of us had fitness backgrounds as well which only motivated us to take part. It’s an experience you just can’t download.
Q: For those who’ve never seen axe throwing, what can you tell them about the sport?
A: We throw a double bit axe, around the weight of a sledgehammer, at a target 1.5m off the ground from 20 feet away. The bullseye is two inches wide. That’s five points. Outside that, there are other rings two inches wide, worth four, three, two and one point.
It requires a lot more finesse than most would imagine. It’s not all about having the strength to wield it, but taking into account the distance and aim also.
Anyone can hit the target now and again but it’s about repeatability over three days. There’s quite a big psychological element. The best guys don’t miss. It’s five, five, five, five.
Q: Kelly Lynch’s shot from the world championships has really captured imaginations online.
A: I was there when she did it and it was an amazing throw. The video of it has gotten a few million downloads on YouTube, and it was all over German broadcasters.
It’s great because I think the coverage of women’s sports in Ireland leaves a lot to be desired, especially for some of the outlandish sports. You would see RTÉ covering Ladies GAA, soccer and camogie but not an awful lot else.
Q: What’s next for the team?
A: The Nordic Championships are just a month away. So we’re training hard for that. There are 12 going.
It’s in Hammerdal in Sweden near the Arctic. The standard will be even higher with all the top Scandinavians there.
Our trip to Germany was self-funded which isn’t sustainable for future competitions. For this one, we’ve got a couple of sponsors — Hultafors for our equipment and Asavie sponsor the travel. But now
we’re hoping to get a permanent range. Somewhere around the size of a handball alley. At the moment, we train in a field, using LED lights when it’s dark. We’re not looking for much, just shelter and electricity.
Q: Is there a long-term future for the sport in Ireland?
A: Well, we’d love to host the world championships here. We train right beside Ashford Studios where the TV series Vikings is made. Everyone we met in Germany watches it. And a couple of the team were extras in
the show so they were being asked for autographs and selfies. When we told them we trained so close to where the show is made, they all wanted to come over and see it.
So if Sweden goes well for us, we want to stage the next World Championships in Ireland. We’re already checking out potential venues that could host something on that scale.
Up in Sweden, sports like axe throwing are on the front of every newspaper just like GAA is on ours. And women’s sport can often be put to the side here. Hopefully Kelly’s video and the rest of our progress in the World Championship will help hit two birds with one stone.
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