The 2009 Dunedin Highland Games By Eric Talmant for CriticalBench.com
"If it ain't Scottish, it's crap!" The Highland Games are events that are held as a way of celebrating Scottish culture and heritage. A bagpipe, haggis, kilts, clans, William Wallace, and of course the caber toss are all things that come to mind when thinking Scotland. Although there was music, dancing, and socializing nothing quite captures the admiration of the Scotsmen like the athletic events that were contested between the strongest of each clan. Enter contestant #43, Scott Grimm. His kilt plaid represents clan Galloway, from where he traced his Scottish/Irish heritage.
Scott is a physician assistant and has been competing in the Highland games for 6 years. He first got involved in Highland games competition while trying to find a competitive sport outside of powerlifting that he could get involved with. He recalled watching Scottish competitions aired on ESPN back in the day and with a little research and a phone call to one of the local games athletic directors he was hooked. I have known Scott since I moved to the Tampa area back in 2002 because we used to all train together at the Powerhouse Gym in North Tampa.
Eric Talmant and Highland Games Competitor Scott Grimm
The Dunedin Highland athletic games have three divisions: A, B, C and Masters. Since Scott competes in the A division (the highest) that is where our focus will be. There are seven different events for the Dunedin games, with an eighth event being a bonus and exclusive to Dunedin. Each competitor is awarded points for their finish in each of the events, and at the conclusion of all seven events each athlete's points are tallied and the rankings are determined from highest to lowest much like a decathlon.
The first event at Dunedin was the Stone of Strength...
...which is also known as the Clachneart stone. This event resembles the shot put, but typically uses a stone of varying weight (at the Dunedin games it was 17 pounds) and you can put or throw the stone using any style within the pre-determined box while staying behind the line or "trig". Competitors either use a glide or spin technique similar to the shot put or discus in the Olympics.
Notice the stones to the left in picture.
The best throw of the day was by Dan Royal, who threw the stone over 50 feet.
According to the competitors, Dan also holds the longest throw in the state of Florida at over 58 feet.
#2 Weight throw-56 pound for distance:
The weight used is typically made of metal and has a handle attached with a short chain link. The weight is thrown using a variety of momentum and rotational techniques, but only with one hand. Once the athlete gets the momentum going, a series of spins are employed and then the weight is released. According to Scott, anything over 30 feet is good, 35 feet is great, and over 35 is excellent. Scott's personal best throw is 31'11". Here is a video of his throw:
Scott Grimm 56# For Distance
#3 Weight throw-28# for distance:
Once again, in this event the weight used is typically made of metal and is attached with a chain and a ring for grip. Although the techniques for throwing the 28 pounder for distance are the same as the 56 pounder, the rotational techniques and spinning are more aggressive and involve more upper body strength than core strength; which is used more with the 56 pounder. A throw of 60 feet is good, 65 feet is great, and 70 feet is excellent. Today Scott had a PR throw of 61'2" on his third attempt. Here is a video of his PR throw:
Scott Grimm 28# For Distance
#4 Hammer Throw:
For the Highland games, the hammer throw is a 22 pound round metal ball that is attached to a flexible handle made of what seemed to be cane or bamboo. The competitor begins by fixing their feet with specially designed blades that dig into the ground and hold them put.
With the blades dug into the ground, the hammer is whirled about one's head several times and then released for distance over one of the shoulders. Here is Scott going 83'3", which is his best throw this year:
Scott Grimm Hammer Throw
In addition, most guys use a pine resin tacky or "Jack Tack" for grip due to the force exerted on the hammer.
A throw of 80 feet is good, 90 feet is great, and 95+ is excellent. Here is the rotational power that is required to generate an excellent throw:
Dunedin Games Hammer Throw
After the hammer throw, the competitors received a much deserved break and we were all treated to some "halftime" or lunch time festivities. These included sheep herding, bands playing, and various clans displaying their colors.
#5 Sheaf Toss:
This event is typically after the Caber Toss at the Dunedin games, but since the half time festivities ended up going on longer than usual and since the Sheaf toss was set up away from the main field, the games continued once all the competitors had finished eating lunch.
The Sheaf toss involves a pitch fork and tossing a 16 pound burlap sack (stuffed with either straw or twine) over a horizontal bar that is positioned between two uprights. The horizontal bar starts at 22 feet and typically moves up in 2 foot increments. Each athlete gets 3 attempts at each height, and athletes are eliminated when they fail to clear a particular height in 3 attempts. Those that do clear each height move on to the next increment, and the competitor that eventually clears the highest height is the winner. A hurl of 28 feet is considered good, 30 feet is great, and 32 feet is excellent. Here is one of Scott's attempts:
Scott Grimm Sheaf Toss
#6 Caber Toss:
This would have to be the signature event for the Highland Games. The caber is a tapered log or pole that varies in height (roughly 19'-22') and weight (100-130 pounds). The exercise begins with the competitor squatting down and cradling the tapered end of the caber in his folded hands while balancing it vertically against his shoulder/body.
The competitor then stands up with the caber while balancing it and begins moving forward at a walk, jog, or run to gain momentum in preparation for the heave. The objective is to "toss" the caber and have the heavy end land first. Once the heavy end has planted, the toss is judged on where the light end winds up in relation to where the heavy end first planted.
Relative to the planting of the heavy end, the caber is considered flipped if the light end lands forward of the heavy end and points are assigned to the toss relative to how close the landing is to 12 o'clock as though the field were the face of a giant clock. The 12 o'clock position is a perfect score, and if the caber does not get flipped or turned then the toss is assigned a score based on the degrees it rose from the ground from the initial plant by the heavy end.
Here is a video of a flipped caber:
#7 56# Toss for height:
The rules for the toss for height are the same as the Sheaf toss. There is a vertical bar situated between two upright poles, and each competitor gets 3 attempts at each height to clear the bar with the 56 pound weight within the uprights. The weight is typically attached directly to the handle, and momentum and technique figure into the equation. When the athlete clears the bar he advances to the next round. As the height of the bar increases, the field of competitors decreases until there is only one left. The highest successful toss is the winner, and in the event of a tie the winner is determined by the competitor with the fewest attempts taken to clear the highest height. A good height is 13 feet, a great score is 14 feet, and an excellent score is 15 feet.
Scott Grimm and the toss for height
At the end of the day, Scott finished 6th in a field of 12 of the southeast region's best competitors as well as some of the best in the country. However, I am sure that everyone involved-both competitors and spectators-had a fantastic afternoon of culture, sport, food, and spirits at the Dunedin Highland Games. I certainly know that I did!
For more information about competing in the Scottish Highland games in your area, please try www.nasgaweb.com or www.thessaaa.org. A quick internet search for Scottish festivals in your state would also work well.