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ABOUT THE HEAVY ATHLETIC EVENTS
The competitors in highland games carry out traditions dating back to the eleventh century and perhaps even earlier. They were originally men who participated in acts showing off their manhood, using items that were found commonly in the Scottish Highlands, such as stones or logs. The Braemar Gathering claims to be the first recorded Highland Games. King Malcolm tested the athletes in a hill race in order to choose a messenger who was not only physically fit, but also quick. Thus the Highland Games were born, and other events were added throughout time as tests of the athletes’ strength and speed. The first formally organized and annual gathering dates back to around 1820. Many of the Heavy Events competitors in Scottish highland athletics are former high school and college track and field athletes who find the Scottish games are a good way to continue their competitive careers.
Increasingly here in the USA, the Heavy Events are attracting women and master class (40+ years old) athletes which has led to a proliferation of additional classes in Heavy Events competitions. Lighter implements are used in these classes. Though originally a sport exclusively for men, women have started playing a greater role in Highland Games competitions. In Scotland, the ratio is now closer to 60-40, more men than women, but women are quickly gaining ground.
ABOUT THE INDIVIDUAL EVENTS:
Stone Put: This event is similar to the modern-day shot put as seen in the Olympic Games. Instead of a steel shot, a large stone of variable weight is often used. There are also some differences from the Olympic shot put in allowable techniques. There are two versions of the stone toss events, differing in allowable technique. The "Braemar Stone" uses a 20–26 lb stone for men (13–18 lb for women) and does not allow any approach to the toeboard or "trig" to deliver the stone, i.e., it is a standing put. In the "Open Stone" using a 16–22 lb stone for men (or 8–12 lb for women), the thrower is allowed to use any throwing style so long as the stone is put with one hand with the stone resting cradled in the neck until the moment of release. Most athletes in the open stone event use either the "glide" or the "spin" techniques.
Caber Toss: A long tapered pine pole or log is stood upright and hoisted by the competitor who balances it vertically holding the smaller end in his hands (see photo). Then the competitor runs forward attempting to toss it in such a way that it turns end over end with the upper (larger) end striking the ground first. The smaller end that was originally held by the athlete then hits the ground in the 12 o'clock position measured relative to the direction of the run. If successful, the athlete is said to have turned the caber. Cabers vary greatly in length, weight, taper, and balance, all of which affect the degree of difficulty in making a successful toss. Competitors are judged on how closely their throws approximate the ideal 12 o'clock toss on an imaginary clock.
Scottish Hammer Throw: This event is similar to the hammer throw as seen in modern-day track and field competitions, though with some differences. In the Scottish event, a round metal ball (weighing 16 or 22 lb for men or 12 or 16 lb for women) is attached to the end of a shaft about 4 feet in length and made out of wood, bamboo, rattan, or plastic. With the feet in a fixed position, the hammer is whirled about one's head and thrown for distance over the shoulder. Hammer throwers sometimes employ specially designed footwear with flat blades to dig into the turf to maintain their balance and resist the centrifugal forces of the implement as it is whirled about the head. This substantially increases the distance attainable in the throw.
Weight Over Bar: (also known as weight for height) The athletes attempt to toss a 56 pound weight (42 lb. for masters, 28 lb. for women) with an attached handle over a horizontal bar using only one hand. Each athlete is allowed three attempts at each height. Successful clearance of the height allows the athlete to advance into the next round at a greater height. The competition is determined by the highest successful toss with fewest misses being used to break tie scores.
Sheaf Toss: A bundle of straw (the sheaf) weighing 20 or 16 pounds for the men and 10 or 12 pounds 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 the same as the Weight Over Bar. There is significant debate among athletes as to whether the sheaf toss is in fact an authentic Highland event. In fact, in Scotland it is known as a farming sport. Some will argue it is actually a country fair event, but all will agree that it is a great crowd pleaser.
Weight for Distance: (also known as the Weight throw) There are actually two separate events, one using a light weight (28 lb. for men and 14 lb. for women) and the other a heavy weight (56 lb. for men, 42 lb. for masters men, and 28 lb. for women). 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, both one and two spins are allowed. The farthest throw wins.