Throwing knives
Montara's Rick Lemberg is leading an online and international competition of people who aim to hit the bullseye with knives and tomahawks. Review file photo

Though it may be outside the mainstream sports spotlight, competitions involving knife and tomahawk throwing have a dedicated community in the United States and abroad.

With the coronavirus altering economies and halting sports leagues across the world, the Aim Games, a knife- and tomahawk-throwing tournament run by Montara resident Rick Lemberg, might be one of the biggest competitions still operating. And with competitors around the world looking for exercise and entertainment options, the field in this grassroots event is bigger than ever.

The largest Aim Games had 371 entries, and Lemberg believes this current round far surpasses that. Within the first 12 days there were 215 submissions from 20 countries.

The competition began on April 3 and contestants can submit as many attempts as they desire via Facebook until June 22. This time the Aim Games is all about tomahawks, but will switch back to knives for the next 80-day competition. This is the 18th tournament in four years.

Lemberg, 59, isn’t competing this time, but he’s got world-class credentials. He’s a member of the International Knife Throwers Hall of Fame and a multi-time world champion, his most recent victory coming at the world championships in Canada last year.

Growing up in Sunnyvale, he didn’t discuss his hobby openly for many years. It wasn’t until he was profiled by the San Jose Mercury News in 1995 that he revealed his dedication. The story made its way to knife throwers who organized the U.S. Nationals in South Carolina and they invited him to the event. It was his first competition and he finished third. In 2002, he won the world title in speed throwing, hurling as many knives as possible in a certain time frame. The next year he proved to be the best tomahawk thrower.

Lemberg, who was coined “Rick the Rocket” by fellow throwers, became an influential figure in the sport and has helped grow it since that first competition. He helped usher in disciplines like long-distance and speed-throwing rounds in the mid-1990s. Lemberg runs the entire operation of the Aim Games by himself. It features a $10,000 prize pool.

He reviews every clip and updates the score sheet each day. He also accumulates the prizes and ships them, free of charge. The prizes include custom-made knives and tomahawks plus gear from clubs around the world

“The Aim Games is automated in a way that I set up myself so I can run the whole thing by myself from Montara,” he said.

Lemberg often travels internationally for work, but this competition is well-suited to be handled remotely. The format sounds simple, but Lemberg assures it is anything but easy. Contestants take nine shots at a 4-inch bullseye from three locations and each throw requires a different technique. This style is designed not just to motivate entrants to improve their own ability, it’s also built to be accessible to anyone who has an interest.

“I’m really happy to enable athletes from Indonesia to compete with Sweden,” he said. “We have athletes from all over the world competing.”

This event also bridges a divide between two cultures in the knife-throwing community. There are many members of the World Axe Throwers League, a professional organization that occasionally has competitions aired on ESPN, going head-to-head against the best members of the International Knife Throwers Hall of Fame. These two groups, while similar in nature, have not formally competed against each other, yet they share an appreciation and understanding of each other’s skillset. The upper echelon of the leaderboard is a perfect example of this intersection. The names of the list include the best throwers from around the world. Paul Maccarone, currently sitting in fourth, is a heavyweight favorite as he’s won the last 13 Aim Games.

For Maccarone, a five-time world champion who’s earned a multitude of national titles in various throwing disciplines, the international competitions are not a means to monetary wealth. The Ithaca, N.Y., man said that, like Lemberg, he throws simply because he enjoys the process.

Maccarone threw knives for fun as a kid. He entered his first competition in 2012, and, while he knew he was talented, the level of dedication of the competitors surrounding him made him realize how far he still had to go. With so much around the world affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Maccarone, 55, is glad the Aim Games are still going on.

Maccarone is determined to keep his streak alive. Lemberg is particularly excited to see how he responds to Mike Kump, the reigning U.S. Open World Axe Throwing League Champion, who is on top of the leaderboard for the moment.

“These two guys have never met,” Lemberg said. “This is kind of like Ali versus Foreman or something similar. Monstrous throwers going up against each other.”

There is also a growing women’s presence in the games, and kids can join in as well.

“Men, women, older and younger folks, they’re all throwing,” said Maccarone’s wife, Chris O’Brien, who is also

competing. “We’re able to compete because it’s not about strength. I can’t throw the big three-spin from way back, but I can compete at the one-spin from 3 meters like everybody else in the world, so that’s pretty cool.”

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