Strength and skirt wearing have never been synonymous in most cultural experiences. That is, unless you are Scottish and wearing a kilt.
A number of strong lads wearing kilts gathered in Rapid City on the last day of August for the annual Black Hills Scottish Highland Games affectionately known as Rushmore Heavy Events. Not that the participants were necessarily heavy, but the loads they were lifting, throwing, and tossing certainly were.
Scottish Highland Games consist of several different events, many of which served as a model for several traditional Olympic disciplines. Rushmore Heavy Events started with one of those, stone put, which was a precursor to the traditional Olympic shot put.
Instead of a steel shot, a large stone of variable weight is 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 run up to the toeboard to deliver the stone. 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.
Next, we had sheaf toss. A bundle of straw (the sheaf), weighing 20 pounds for men and 10 pounds for women, and wrapped in a burlap bag is tossed vertically with a pitchfork over a raised bar much like that used in pole vaulting. This event proved to be a great crowd pleaser, with spectators loudly cheering the competitors on.
This time, the winner of the event managed to toss the 20-pound sheaf over the 27-foot high bar, leaving competition in the dust. Neither of the lads in the pictures above or below won, but they surely enjoyed their own accomplishments.
Another classic Highland Games discipline, weight for distance (aka weight throw), offered a great display of strength. There were actually two separate events, one using a light (28 lb for men and 14 lb for women) and the other a heavy (42 lb for men, and 28 lb for women) weight. The weights are made of metal and have a handle attached by means of a chain. The implement is thrown using one hand only, but otherwise using any technique. Usually a spinning technique is employed. Watch the weight fly high up into the air after this strong lad’s throw.
Just make sure to stand at a safe distance while the athletes are throwing the weight, or you might end up pushing up the daisies (or heather, if you happen to attend one of these events in Scotland).
Weight for height, otherwise known as weight over the bar, is another discipline requiring both strength and precision in order to avoid any possible dangerous consequences.
In this event, the athletes attempt to toss a 56-pound weight with an attached handle over a horizontal bar using only one hand. Each athlete is allowed three attempts at each height. In competition today, the winner cleared a 12-foot high bar, leaving both of the lads in these pictures behind.
Another Olympic-like discipline at Highland Games is the hammer throw. A round metal ball (weighing 22 lb for men or 16 lb for women) is attached to the end of a shaft about 4 feet in length and made out of wood. With the feet in a fixed position, the hammer is whirled about one’s head and thrown for distance over the shoulder. If the hammer throwers are not in best form, this also makes for an extremely dangerous event for both referees and spectators who happen to find themselves in close proximity.
Despite all of these tricky disciplines and remarkable displays of strength, the highlight of the event and a discipline most often remembered at the mention of Highland Games almost inevitably appears to be the caber toss.
A long tapered log is stood upright and hoisted by the competitor who balances it vertically, holding the smaller end in his hands. 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. Not to mention that these babies are extremely heavy, long, and difficult to balance. Competitors are judged on how closely their throws approximate the ideal 12 o’clock toss on an imaginary clock.
After seeing all of these amazing feats performed by lads in kilts, I am sure I will never again equate skirt wearing with weakness. And if you have a problem with the idea of guys wearing skirts in public, just mention it to one of these Scottish lads. You might even be credited with helping them develop a brand new Highland Games discipline – the “amhlair toss.”
* Scottish Gaelic – amhlair: nm. pl. +ean, dull, stupid person, boor