Scottish Highland Games Competition

The Scottish Highland games, part cultural festival and part athletic competition, are the modern-day embodiment of the war games and contests that were held in ancient Scotland. Highland Games are at least as old as the ancient Olympic Games of Greece.

In the modern variant, Highland Games are held all over the world; Scottish music, particularly bagpipes, is a common feature. In the modern Highland Games, women and men compete in separate athletic divisions. The athletic competitions are generally divided into light athletics, including highland dancing, sprint races, and jumping events, and heavy athletics, a series of demanding strength events that, to the sports world, are the essential Highland Games competitions. Unlike the ancient Highland Games, where membership in a Highland clan was a precondition to competition, the modern competitions are open to anyone who can match the set qualification standards.

The heavy events at a typical Highland Games competition will include the "caber toss," officially known as turning the caber. A caber is a long, tapered wooden pole with a shape similar to that of a ship's mast or a telephone pole and a weight between 100 and 180 pounds (45-82 kg). The caber is placed upright, then picked up at the smaller end by the competitor;

Highland Games athlete in the "caber toss."
the thrown caber must pass through the vertical (90 degrees from the ground) to be considered "turned." A valid throw will fall away from the competitor within a 180-degree semi-circle, and the closer to a straight line from the competitor the end of the caber is turned when it lands, the more successful the toss. Another heavy event is the stone put, an event similar to the shotput, in that the stone, weighing 22 lb (10 kg) is thrown from behind a line for the furthest distance. The hammer throw, another event similar to the Olympic competition, is a competition in which a hammer is attached to a line and thrown, with the athlete using the principles of centrifugal force to assist in generating speed. The weight toss is an event in which a 56-lb (25.4 kg) weight is thrown for the furthest distance. Finally there is sheaf tossing, whereby a heavy sheaf of grain, encased in a burlap type sack, is thrown using a pitchfork.

These seemingly rustic events are exceedingly demanding. The ideal Scottish Highland Games heavy athlete will be powerful; the throwing of heavy weights often is facilitated by a relatively low center of gravity. Leg strength, particularly the development of required muscular power needed for the explosive force to deliver thrust in all five of the heavy events, is essential to success.

Highland Games circuits have developed in the past 20 years, in Scotland and across North America, mirroring the increasing popularity of the heavy events. World championships have been held in Scotland, as have world master's Highland Games (for those over 40 years of age). A number of successful heavy athletes have also competed in other strength competitions, most notably the "World's Strongest Man" events made popular through the television media.

SEE ALSO Hammer throw; Short, high intensity exercise; Shotput.