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Prepping for the Highland Games

Highland Games

Highland Games in a nutshell

All around the world people participate or are spectators at Scottish Highland Games. Seen as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture it is one of Scotland’s biggest cultural exports. Features of the Games include competitions in piping and drumming, dancing, heavy athletics, as well all kinds entertainment and exhibits related to many aspects of Scottish and Gaelic culture.

They were also thought to have originally been events where the strongest and bravest soldiers in Scotland would be tested. These gatherings were not only about trials of strength. Musicians and dancers were encouraged to reveal their skill and talents and so be a great credit to the clan that they represented.

Now there are Highland Games held in many places throughout the world. Traditionally some events have become standard in these games such as the caber toss, stone put, Scottish hammer throw, weight throw, weight over the bar and sheaf toss. However, these gathering now have a whole variety of events, stalls, entertainments, pipes, dancing and all kinds of competitions

First Highland Games experience in Kuala Lumpur

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to be able to compete the Highland Games in Kuala Lumpur, the hosts of the event invited me along to be part of the festivities. The Highland Games is definitely a gentlemen’s event with a high value placed on ethics, sport-manlike behaviour and camaraderie with your fellow Highland Games athletes.

Like for one… After you finished your throw, you are expected to place the implement at the starting point. After tossing the Caber, you are expected to bring back the Caber for the next athlete and raise it up for him. This was pretty amazing because it just solidifies the concept of camaraderie. 

I didn’t expect to do well at the Highland Games in Kuala Lumpur. It was pretty much a learn as you go. I’ve only thrown the shot put. I’ve never thrown the hammer, weight over bar, weight for distance or tossed a Caber. But I was pleasantly surprised that with every throw or event, I got better and better. Of course technique wise I was pretty terrible but I did hold my own with seasoned Highland Games athletes.

Highland Games Events

Caber Toss

Perhaps the signature event of the Highland Games is the caber toss, where competitors toss a 20-foot-long caber (a large log), which normally weighs around 150lb, as far as possible. The caber toss is also a good test of balance, as the athlete has to balance the caber in their hands and perform a run-up before they toss it. Athletes’ throws are also judged on their straightness; a perfect toss sees the small end of the caber facing away from the thrower, at a “12 o’clock” angle.

Hammer Throw

The hammer throw is also an Olympic event, although the hammer thrown in the Highland Games is quite different. It consists of a metal ball, which can weigh up to 22lbs, connected to a wooden handle. Also unlike in the Olympic Games, athletes are not allowed to spin while throwing the hammer. Instead, they stand with their back facing the field, and swing the hammer over their heads before they twist 180 degrees and launch it as far as they can. The athletes also wear special boots, with long blades fixed to the bottom, in order to make sure they stay fixed into that spot in the ground.

Hammer Throwing Practice

Stone Put

The stone put event is much like shotput, however, the athletes instead throw a stone, weighing around 18lb, picked from a nearby river. Competitors throw the stone from behind a board known as a trig, and have three attempts to launch it as far as possible.

Weight for Height

This event is a real test of brute strength and tests how high the athletes can throw a 56lb weight over a cross bar. The catch is that they may only throw it with one hand, from a standing position, with three attempts to throw the weight over the bar at that height. The bar continues to be raised, with the athletes having to launch the weight higher and higher, until it’s the last man standing. To put this event into perspective is the same thing as launching a 7 year old up and over a double decker bus! 

Weight over Height Throwing Practice
Photo by: Andrew Johnson @inspirational_athletes

Weight for Distance

There are actually two separate events, one using a light (28 lb for men and 14 lb for women) and the other a heavy (56 lb for men, 42 lb for masters men, and 28 lb for women) weight. The weights are made of metal and have a handle attached either directly or by means of a chain. The implement is thrown using one hand only, but otherwise using any technique. Usually a spinning technique is employed. The furthest throw wins.

Sheaf Toss

A bundle of straw (the sheaf) weighing 20 pounds (9.1 kg) for the men and 10 pounds (4.5 kg) for the women and wrapped in a burlap bag is tossed vertically with a pitchfork over a raised bar much like that used in pole vaulting. The progression and scoring of this event is similar to the Weight Over The Bar. This event scares me because I have no idea how to do this. Worst case scenario, I stab myself in the while tossing the sheaf. Maybe I should wear safety goggles for this event. 

How do I prep for something that I’ve never done before?

The truth is… Its almost impossible. Throwing to me came pretty naturally because my background as an athlete was Track and Field. I used to throw in my younger years representing my school and country. So some events came naturally to me like the shot put or stone throw because the movements were rather similar.

Basically the Highland Games in Kuala Lumpur was a warm up and I needed it make sure I knew what I getting myself into. As a result of that, I’ve fabricated my own throwing hammer, weight over bar and weight for distance. Just slowly building up my own arsenal of Highland Games equipment of course with the help and input from the guys I’ve competed with at the Highland Games in Kuala Lumpur. Now I do event training at least twice a week when my schedule allows it. I’ve even got my blades fabricated and I’ve attached them to my throwing boots already! #achievementunlocked

You just got to throw caution to the wind and just learn as you go. It’s my dream to actually compete in one of the most traditional feats of strengths that is the Highland Games. I’ve always adopted a philosophy that you either win or you learn. I’m definitely not able to be pushing for a top three finish but I’m definitely going to do my best and make every throw count. And I’m going to learn from the best in Scotland which is also my ancestral home.

I will be competing at the Drumtochty Highland Games on the 22nd June 2019. The following week at the Ceres Highland Games on the 29th June 2019. And of course I had to choose the games that is oldest and most historical games. Questionable Life Decisions right there! 

In the meantime stay injury free, stay strong and have a good month of fasting for my Muslim friends!

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