Top semi-professional athletes compete on the Highland Games circuit throughout the season. Many of these improbably strong athletes are attracted to the Bridge of Allan Games. Each event has ancient roots, now concentrated in a standardised competitive format.
Tossing the Caber
This event has changed little since its inception. Cabers are tapered and can vary in length and weight but are usually around 150lbs and up to 17 feet. Bridge of Allan Games keeps its cabers in the burn prior to the big day to let them soak up the water, thereby increasing the weight and making them less likely to split.
The object of tossing the caber is to throw the pole directly ahead, landing on the heavy end so that the light end makes a perfect turn over and lands pointing directly in line, away from the thrower. Points are then awarded on how straight the caber falls, with any deviation attracting penalty points.
Throwing the Weight Over the Bar
In early games, large stones were thrown over a pole or rope and the height increased until a winner remained. These days agricultural weights are used – specifically a 56lb metal cube. It’s not practical to let spectators test the weight but you will be able to see from the strain that builds as the bar gets higher that this is no child’s play.
Throwing the Weight for Distance
Done with a ball and chain, no more than 18″ long with a handle attached. Although there are two standard weights – 28lbs and 56lbs – the former is used in Bridge of Allan. The thrower must use only one hand and has nine feet behind the marker to make three full turns before releasing the handle and hurling the weight forward.
Competitors are disqualified if they unbalance themselves when throwing and step or fall over the marker. When properly executed, it is decidedly the most graceful and eye-catching of the heavyweight events but it has its risks. This is why you see the ‘cage’ behind the thrower, which is there to protect the audience from the hammer (not, as some have suggested, from the heavy weights themselves)!
Putting the Shot
One of the simplest competitions in early Games, with competitors throwing large boulders as far as possible. These days the weight is standardised at 16lbs and a regulation steel ball replaces the rather less predictable stones. With the very high standard of entry we get at Bridge of Allan, a good number of records have been set and broken here.
Throwing the Hammer
With a Blacksmith’s forge to be found in almost every glen, it’s not surprising that another Highland pastime was throwing the hammer. These days throwing style is strictly controlled. No turning is allowed and the thrower grasps the handle and swings the hammer three or four times round his head before releasing it behind him. Whilst the spectators are quite safe, the occasional straying hammer can be a hazard for judges and unwary Games officials.
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