Celtic Festival and Highland Games of the Quad Cities



What is Heavy Athletics at the Celtic Highland Games of the Quad Cities

Heavy Athletics is a term referring to the throwing events in Highland Games. Some believe the term "Heavy" came about due to the implements thrown or to the physical stature of the athletes who perform the events, but in general "heavy" has to do with the heavy or
strenuous effort required to perform these feats. This is in contrast to “Light” athletics such as running and jumping events which are contested in Highland Games in Scotland. Light Athletics also reffers to the Dance competition where in earlier times, heavy athletic champions also competed.

It has often been said these events have grown out of the Celtic Warrior Traditions of testing fellow Clansmen for strength and agility. However, the implements of the modern game have little to do with training for combat and these stories seem more designed to romance and entertain the audience.

No matter the origins, Heavy Athletics is made up of six athletic endeavors, which test the contestant’s strength and agility. It is not surprising that versions of many of these events are seen in the Olympics, NCAA Track and Field meets, and Strongman contests as this sport is the grand daddy of all strength sports.

The endeavors that make up the Heavy Athletics comprised of:

Clachneart (Stone of strength) & Braemar Stone

These ancient events are evolved into the modern day shot-put. A stone
is used instead of a steel ball. The stone must be 'put' from the front of
the shoulder using only one hand.

A 16 to 22 pound stone is used for the Clachneart, which allows a seven-
and-a-half foot run-up to a toe-board.

The Braemar stone is a standing throw using a heavier, 22 to 30 pound

The contestants are judged on the longest of the three throws.

Weight Throws

Scottish Weight throws are the origin of the NCAA track weight throw.
The weight throw was also contested in the Olympics until the 1920
Games. A heavy (56 lbs) and light (28 lbs) metal implement is thrown for
distance. The weight is thrown one-handed from behind the toe board with
a nine-foot run up allowed. Any style may be used, but the most popular
and efficient is to spin like a discus thrower.

The weights are based on “stone” weights of the old imperial measuring
system, often used in agriculture. The implements thrown developed from
yard weights used to balance scales. A “stone” weighs 14-pounds, which
means the athlete is throwing 2 and 4 stone weights.

The contestants are judged on the longest of the three throws.

Scottish Hammer

The Scottish hammer is the precursor to the Olympic wire hammer throw
and most likely comes from throwing black smith hammers or “mells”..

Today, the Scottish hammer is metal ball weighing 16 or 22 pounds (9 and
12 pounds for women) on a 50-inch long cane or PVC shaft and is thrown
for distance.

The hammer is thrown over the shoulder with the competitors back facing
the field. The hammer is whirled in circles about the competitor’s body
from over his head to down in front of his feet, each time picking up speed
until the release. The competitor's feet may only move upon the releases
of the hammer over his shoulder.

The contestants are judged on the longest of the three throws.

An often repeated story of the origin of this event claims that it comes
from medieval mace being throwing at mounted knights. A romantic but
completely false story.




Sheaf Toss

The Sheaf Toss uses a hay fork to toss a 16 to 20 pond sheaf (burlap bag full of twine) for height. 

competitors can launch the sheaf over 30 feet in the air.

An unusual aspect of this event is that any competitor may use any other
competitor’s fork.

The highest toss wins.

It can be easily believed that this event comes from farmer tradition of
launching sheafs of grain into the loft of a barn.

An amusing myth states the origin of this event was from medieval
castle sieges where the knights would use a hay fork loaded with animal
droppings and bedding material which was lite on fire and thrown over the
castle wall to set buildings on fire.

Weight Toss

This event is often called the Test of Champions as it is usually the last
contested and tests the athlete’s endurance and mental fortitude to dig
down and find that little extra.

The 4 stone or 56 pound weight used for distance event is also tossed
for height. This event is periodically appears in the World Strongest Man

With heights thrown over 15 feet, this event is akin to throwing a car
battery onto a highway overpass.

The highest toss wins.

Caber Toss

The Caber Toss is the signature event of heavy Athletics. This event
requires raw strength, balance, and coordination to pick up a 15-20 foot
tall tapered pole weighing 90 to 140 pounds and flipping it end over end.

This event is done for accuracy not distance or height. The best turn of
the caber is when the smaller end held by the competitor is propelled end
over end and lands directly away from the competitor as if it was a clock
hand pointing at 12:00.

There are many myths surrounding this event but common sense
eliminates all of them as the origins of the caber toss.

Myth 1: The caber toss grew out of the practice of flipping a pole up
against a castle wall to breach its defenses. If this was true, the practice
did not last long as there would be a high mortality rate from men with long
bows picking off lumbering invaders caring a tall pole across the battle

Myth 2: The caber toss grew out of the practice of lumberjacks launching
newly harvested logs into a stream allowing them to float down river.
Usable lumbering logs are much thicker and longer than the size of
the biggest cabers. In addition, the weight of freshly cut logs make it

impossible for a single man to lift let alone lift it in the most awkward way
and then throw them into a river.

Myth 3: The caber toss came from a military tradition where the logs
where thrown in a manner allowing the troops to traverse a stream. This
is why they are thrown for accuracy. However, if a military united wanted
to cross a stream, they would do it in a much less strenuous and more
accurate manner, such as standing the log up and push it over!

Myth 4: A group of strapping young lads were enjoying a dram of amber
necatuer in a field by a lane after setting fence posts. Along comes a fine
lass and nature took its course. The lads wanting to impress the lass with
feats of strenght. Next thing you know, the caber toss was invented. This
is the only plausible explanation I have ever heard as to the origin of this


The Celtic Highland Games of the Quad Cities draws top amateur athletes and has seen FIVE different world records broken. Athletes compete in divisions from the top amateur down to Novice as well as lightweight (under 190 pounds), women’s and masters divisions.

You may also see several different Challenge Events at Highland Games. They include:

Irish Super Heavy Two Handed Stone Throw

The Super Heavy Stone Throw with strong Irish Heritage but
practiced across many European countries, is a true challenge.
For men, the stone must weigh over 112 pounds or 8 stone and for
women, a “mere” 56-pound stone is used.

After the stone is hoisted up to chest height or over the head for the
more adventurous throwers, a short run is made and the massive
stone is heaved forward landing with a ground-shaking thud.

Distances are not great, but seeing the contestants lift this boulder
off the ground can often be amusing. This event has earned the
nickname “Stupid Stone Throw” for a variety of obvious reasons.

Keg Toss

A fan favorite is the throwing of ¼ barrel for height similar to
the weight over bar. Here in the QC, the keg is painted in Irish
Tri-Colors to give the event a Irish flare. This is an elimination
tournament with the highest throw winning.

Farmers Walk

A test of endurance, grip strength, and mental toughness, the
farmers walk is a timed event in which the contestant carries a
heavy implement in each hand over a course that is down and back.
The contestant cannot set or drop the implement. The fastest time

Clach cuid fir

Gaelic for “Manhood Stones” is lifting a large stone
two hundred pounds or more from the ground, and placing it on
the top of another about four feet high. A youth that can do this is
forthwith reckoned a man, whence the name of the amusement,
and may then wear a bonnet

Clach cuid fir has evolved into an event seen in strongman contests
called Atlas Stones.



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