THE TRADITIONAL HEAVY EVENTS
Contributed by Walter Weir
The traditional ‘Heavy Events’ are among the most popular activities at Highland Gatherings and the competitors are often widely known and recognized.
In the early days large ‘boulders’, referred to as clach nearit – ‘strongest strength’ or clach cuid fir – ‘manhood stones.’ Where used as a means of demonstrating strength. The stone had to be lifted from ground level and placed on top of a dyke – wall, about three feet high. They normally weighed one to two hundreds of weight (50 to 100 kilos).
About the same time in history, stone throwing or stone putting began. These were smaller, weighing 15lb to 25lb (7 to 10 kilos). The ideal stones were found in river beds.
Over the years, other heavy objects and weights used in everyday life on the crofts or farms were used in a sporting manner to demonstrate strength and athletic ability. All these events, styles, techniques plus the design and construction of the implements have changed and developed over centuries.
Putting the shot
This started out as stone throwing or stone putting. The stones used weighed 15 to 25lb (7 to 10 kilos). The ideal stones were found in river beds. Made round like a ball by the action of the running waters, they were ideal for putting. With the invention of the cannon, cannonballs were thrown instead of stones. A cannonball was called the shot, so throwing them became known as putting the shot.
Throwing the Hammer (Scots’ Style)
Hammer throwing originally used a sledgehammer, but over the years the normal head was replaced with a cannonball. The shaft was made more flexible, plus various styles and techniques were developed and two different events evolved. The Scots’ Hammer, which is thrown from a stationary position at the Highland gatherings and the International or Wire Hammer which is thrown at athletic meetings.
Throwing the 28lb & 56lb weight for distance
These were the standard weights used for weighing farm produce. Both are thrown from within a 9 foot diameter circle, using a similar technique to discuss throwing.
Throwing the 56lb weight for height
This event originated with the farm hands trying to throw the weight into the hay loft. At Highland Gatherings, the weight is thrown over a bar between two uprights, similar to the system set up for pole vaulting.
Tossing the Cabar
This is undoubtedly the most spectacular and popular Heavy Event of the Gatherings. It became a sporting event as far back as the 16th century. There is evidence that Henry VIII participated in cabar tossing.
It’s origins are believed to go back to the crofters. When transporting newly felled tree trunks cabars, back to their crofts, if a fast flowing stream had to be crossed, the cabers were tossed so that they would turn end over end. One end landing in the middle of the stream, the other end would continue to travel forward and fall on the opposite river bank, where it was dragged ashore. As a sport event, it attempts to emulate this ancient practice.
With the narrowest end resting on the ground, the heavy end is hoisted vertically. The athlete steps forward and takes charge of the cabar. Resting it lightly against his shoulder and side of his neck, he bends down until his hands can grasp the bottom. He swiftly stands up, takes a short fast sprint, followed by an almighty heave, which sends the cabar flying through the air. It starts to turn end over end, when the thickest end strikes the ground, the narrow end must continue the turning motion until it falls pointing away from the competitor. Imagine a clock face on the ground, the athlete is at 6 o’clock, the cabar, thick end lands at the centre and the cabar acts as one of the clock’s hands. The best ‘toss’ is the one where the cabar points nearest to 12 o’clock.
Competition cabars are normally 17 to 20 feet long and weighing 100lb to 175lb.
So, from humble beginnings, Scotland has given the world of modern day athletics two field events, Shot Putting and Hammer Throwing.
The winner of Peebles Highland Games Heavy Events Championship receives the Accommodate Rural Shield.