Published on : Friday, June 3, 2016
May saw the formal start to the Scottish highland games season, with around 80 games taking place across the length and breadth of the country over the summer months. It is this centuries old tradition that led to the hammer throw and shot-put being included in the Olympic track and field programme more than 120 years ago.
The hammer throw and shot-put are two of the disciplines that still form part of the programme at today’s highland games. Featuring piping, highland dancing and a range of light and heavy athletics events, highland games celebrate Scotland’s culture and heritage. Overseeing 60 of the games is the Scottish Highland Games Association (SHGA), the governing body of the traditional events.
Highland games remain important outdoor events, not just for their individual communities, but for Scotland as a whole, contributing an estimated £25million to the national economy each year. The 60 games governed by the SHGA attract around 150,000 visitors annually, including thousands from overseas who can claim Scottish ancestry.
Over the coming months, highland games of all sizes will take place each week throughout Scotland. From small games, such as Durness on the north-west tip of Scotland which attracts hundreds of visitors, to high profile games including Crieff and Braemar attracting thousands, all provide a showcase of Scotland’s cultural and sporting heritage.
Over 500 athletes compete in the games organised by SHGA members over the course of each season, with some, such as Scott Rider and the legendary retired athlete Geoff Capes, representing their countries at Commonwealth games. Capes also represented Great Britain in the shot-put at three Olympics. Further illustrating the calibre of the games athletes who participate in multiple disciplines, similar to decathletes, the highland games shot-put record stands at 64’ 11”, over 2’ (2ft) further than the best distance thrown in the decathlon.
Last weekend’s Blackford Highland Games in Perthshire saw two games’ records being broken. Scott Rider from London set a new record for the 22lb heavy hammer, throwing a distance of 119’ 5”, which was 2” (2in) further than the previous record set in 2001 by Bruce Aitken of Auchenblae. East Kilbride’s Lukasz Wenta broke his own record set last year for the 56lb weight over the bar, throwing a height of 16’ 3”. He had held the record jointly with Geoff Capes, who had first set it in 1982 throwing 16’.
Throughout Scotland there are subtle differences in highland games. In Fife, Perthshire and central Scotland there is greater focus on light athletics and cycling, while events in Grampian and the Highlands concentrate more on heavy events.
As the governing body of Scottish highland games, the SHGA works to promote and preserve the traditional events. It also runs a random drug testing programme for athletes in conjunction with UK Anti-Doping, Britain’s national anti-doping agency. The aim is to create an environment where athletes know they can compete in the true spirit of sport.
Charlie Murray, president of the Scottish Highland Games Associations, said:
“Many people do not realise the strong links that Scotland’s highland games have with the Olympics. Three of our events – hammer throw, shot-put and tug o’ war – featured in the first modern Olympiad and that really bears testament to the skill and strength involved in these disciplines.
“Every year, throughout Scotland, highland games provide a sporting and cultural spectacle for thousands of people. They continue to be a huge draw for overseas visitors who are keen to witness events such as tossing the caber, tug o’ war, highland dancing and the massed pipe bands. The crowds we saw at Gordon Castle and Blackford highland games over recent weekends underlines this.
“Although a common thread runs through our members’ events, each games has its own unique character. Each varies in size, but all attract high calibre athletes and participants, ensuring visitors are treated to the highest level of competition. Highland games have been an important part of community life and Scotland’s cultural heritage for centuries and it is important that we preserve their valuable contribution for future generations.”
The Scottish Highland Games Association (SHGA) is the sports governing body of traditional highland games in Scotland and represents more than 60 member events across the country. Established in 1947 as the Scottish Games Association, it aims to further the cause of highland games. The organisation administers the national and international highland games championships and runs a series of regional leagues throughout the highland games season that its members’ events are part of. Recognised by the UK and Scottish governments, the SHGA works at a strategic level on behalf of its members and also provides drug testing facilities, legal support and basic insurance cover to them. Reflecting the internationalisation of highland games, the association also has an associate member category for overseas events and other organisations linked to Scottish highland games.