Brian Donlin – Staff Writer
The Highland Games: a grueling competition that tests the limits of the strength and endurance of many a fine Scottish athlete. For those not familiar with the Games, think of a bunch of heavy men in plaid kilts throwing odd objects and eating haggis. The events of the Highland Games are the Stone Putt, Weight Throw, Hammer Toss, Weight over the Bar, Sheaf Toss, and Caber Toss.
The Open Stone Putt, Braemar Stone Putt, Weight Throw, and Hammer Toss are grouped into the “Distance” category, where the goal is to throw the designated “implement” as far as possible. The Open Stone Putt is the typical shot-put event, but the Braemar Putt is slightly more interesting. Athletes are only allowed a simple standing throw, as opposed to the typical hop and glide motion, and the stone is heavier at 20-28 pounds.
The Weight Throw looks similar to the motion of a spinning discus throw, except the implement used is shaped like a kettle bell. Standard weights are 28 and 56 pounds, and the implement is thrown with only one hand.
The Hammer Toss is actually an event not exclusive to the Highland Games, as it is included in the Olympics as a Field event. The hammer is spherical and has a wooden shaft, which, in the Highland Games, is thrown from a standing position. The 16 pound hammer toss is the farthest distance event, with a world record of 134 feet, 9.5 inches, set by Alistair Gunn, from Halkirk, Scotland in 2005.
While the distance events may be entertaining, the caber toss is the quintessential Highland event. The caber is a huge wooden pole, which has no standardized size or mass. At a competition, the caber is designed so that approximately half of the competitors will be able to “turn” the caber. The athlete receives the caber, runs to gain momentum, then flips the caber vertically as it begins to fall down. The distance of the toss is measured from the position of the throw to the place where the caber lands, and not where it bounces or rolls to. This is exceptionally entertaining as a spectator sport, and is recognized as being among the most difficult of the Highland events.
The Weight over the Bar and Sheaf Toss are measured for height. Both events are similar to the more well-known high jump event in Track and Field, but instead of jumping, an implement is thrown up over a bar. The Weight over Bar event uses the same 56-pound implement as the Weight Throw event. Also like the Weight Throw, only one hand may be used to throw the implement, yet the throwing style matters not. The world record for the Weight for Height event, as it is sometimes called, is 17 feet, an achievement shared by Don Stewart and Kearney Smith.
The Sheaf Toss also involves throwing an implement over a bar, but in this case, a pitchfork is used to hurl a 16 or 20-pound burlap bag. Interestingly, competitors are allowed to bring their own pitchfork, but any competitor may use any pitchfork that is brought to the competition.
The most recent Highland Masters World Championships were completed on August 14, 2010, but luckily, this is an annual competition. For all you aspiring Highlanders, the next Masters is in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in September 2011. Happy Highlanding!