The Calgary Highland Games celebrates its 100th year on August 31. Alongside traditional activities, piping, drumming and dancing, men and women will participate in throwing competitions known as “heavy events.” Here’s what you need to know.
A brief history of throwing
Most versions of Highland Games history agree that the Games became an official sporting competition a thousand years ago, when King Malcolm III of Scotland held a competition to select the strongest men in the land to serve as his royal messengers. How did competitors prove their strength? By flinging heavy objects, of course.
This event is the forerunner to Olympic shot put, but instead of throwing a spherical metal ball as far as possible, athletes throw a stone. Athletes can put the stone Braemar style (standing still) or standard style (using a spin or a glide).
Athletes heave a weight up and over a horizontal bar one-handed. The bar is set progressively higher, with each athlete given three attempts per height; the winner is the thrower who clears the greatest height with the fewest misses.
A Highland Games hammer is a 22-lb weighted head attached to a wooden or PVC handle. The thrower performs a series of rotations, spinning the hammer around to gain velocity before releasing it. Many heavy events athletes attach blades to their boots to anchor themselves to the ground as they whip the hammer around.
A competitor must lift an 18- to 26-foot, tapered wooden pole by its smaller end and balance it vertically. The athlete then runs and releases the caber, not to gain distance, but to flip the pole so that it lands on its larger end and falls directly in line with the direction the athlete was running. A caber that lands at 12 o’ clock receives a top score.
The 2013 Calgary Highland Games take place August 31 at Springbank Park. Find out more at calgaryhighlandgames.org.