The Scottish Highland Games are an athletic tradition with deep historic roots in Scotland. For hundreds of years, athletes have competed in these tests of strength and athleticism. The Highland Games have been held on US soil since 1836.
Last Saturday and Sunday, September 18th and 19th, Loon Mountain in Lincoln, NH hosted its 40th Annual NH Highland Games & Festival. For my birthday, my wife Caitlin surprised me with tickets to see the games! We traveled to NH to watch elite athletes compete in a series of throwing events over a two-day period to determine a champion. In addition to the contest, Europe's Strongest Man and 2x World's Strongest Man top-3 finisher, Hafthor Bjornsson, known commonly as "Thor", was attending the games. He was there for a meet and greet as well as some guest event participation.
As far as the athletes are concerned, a field of excellent competitors was assembled. The majority of the athletes were from the US, with one athlete from Canada, one from Iceland and another from Scotland. The top two competitors were 2x Highland Games World Champion Matt Vincent, from Louisiana, and 3x Highland Games World Champion and current champion Daniel McKim, from Missouri.
The first event of day one was the heavy hammer throw. The heavy hammer weighs 22 lbs. This is a very exciting event to watch. It is similar to the track and field event, but with slightly different technique. The athletes swing a pvc pipe with weight on one end around their head to gather momentum before throwing it out in the field for distance. The furthest throw wins. In the first event, Dan McKim came through with an amazing performance and set a new field record of 125'9"! A cool aspect of the Highland Games is that when an athlete wins an event, he has the option to take another 3 attempts to better his mark. Dan did this on the light hammer and really got the crowd fired up. For the rest of the day, all the winners would take their extra 3 attempts, which I found admirable. It seemed like the athletes not only wanted to improve, but put on a show as well.
The next event was called the open stone. The open stone is the lighter of the two stone throws, and is essentially the same as throwing a shot put. However, the stone is a rock that is unbalanced and can weigh anywhere from 16-22 lbs., but is usually around 16 lbs. This event was great to watch as well. The winning throw came from Matt Vincent who threw around 57'.
The third event on day one was the heavy weight for distance. This event consists of the athlete rotating with the implement in hand, and throwing the weight in front of him from sort of a sidearm release. This looked very technical and challenging. The winner, Matt Vincent tossed the 56 lbs. weight 46'7.5". That was another field record set that day and was very impressive.
Next up was weight over bar. In this event, the competitors throw a 56 lbs. weight with one hand back over their head to clear a bar, like the keg toss in World's Strongest Man. Thor participated in this event as a special guest competitor and broke the world record with a 19'4" throw. He clearly has a knack for all things strength.
After guest competing in the weight over bar, Thor did an exhibition Jon Pall Sigmarsson Deadlift. This was a partial range of motion deadlift off of wagon wheels as weight plates. This set up was just like the bar used in the iconic clip of Jon Pall where he coined the phrase, "There is no reason to be alive if you cannot do deadlift!" In that clip, Jon Pall lifted 1,005 lbs. from knee height to lockout. On Loon Mountain, Thor aka The Mountain, easily pulled 1,160 lbs. for a new record!
Finally, the last event of day one was the caber toss. The caber is something most people picture when they think Highland Games. It essentially looks like a thin telephone pole. The athletes pick the caber up from the ground, hold it vertically and attempt to run with the caber to gain speed before flipping it over. The object is to get the caber to flip perfectly end-over-end. If you do, you are rewarded a 12:00 score. It is judged like the hands on a clock. The caber is usually around 20 ft. long and around 120 lbs. Dan McKim won this by flipping the caber perfectly end-over-end and earning a perfect score.
Day two was a bit shorter with three events. The first was the light hammer. It is the same event as the heavy hammer, but the implement only weighs 16 lbs versus 22 lbs. Obviously, this hammer goes a bit further which makes it a very exciting event. Three athletes threw very close to 140' with the winner being Dan McKim, who went over 149'.
Event two of day two was the Braemar stone, which weighs 26 lbs. The difference between the open or light stone and the Braemar stone is the throwing requirements. With this stone, the athletes must keep one foot planted and "put" the stone, they cannot spin or glide like they can with the lighter stone before throwing it. The winner here was Dan McKim with 38'9.5". Matt Vincent was barely edged out. He put the stone 38'7". Canadian champion Matt Doherty, who had a great day himself, took third with a very close 38'5" throw. Great event!
The final event of day two and of the competition was the light weight for distance. This is the same as the heavy weight for distance which took place on day one, but the weight is 28 lbs. Matt Vincent threw a 84'10" throw to narrowly edge out Jake Sullivan's 84'7" toss. Vincent won this event.
Elite competitors Matt Vincent and Daniel McKim battled it out and each took multiple first place finishes, but after all the events Daniel McKim was the victor.
It was a great display of strength, power and athleticism. These guys are very explosive athletes. They seemed to really enjoy themselves while competing and it was a great atmosphere. It sure inspired me to continue to improve. Who knows, maybe I'll even head outside and toss around some rocks.