Adam Drummond gets ready to toss a 75 pound caber in front of the legislature as part of the Tartan Parade last Saturday.

A throwback to medieval days

Past national champions mingle with novices at Highland Games heavy events

Anyone making an unplanned visit to Topaz Park this weekend might wonder if they’ve stumbled upon a medieval  warriors’ competition.

They wouldn’t be far off.

The “heavy events” that comprise a major part of the annual Victoria Highland Games will feature 10 of the burliest, strongest men in the country, all vying for the Canadian Scottish Athletic Federation championship crown.

Twenty-nine-year-old Greg Hadley, a barrel-chested, six-foot, 273-pounder from Antigonish, N.S., will be out to defend his title and capture his seventh national title. He’ll be pressed by 2010 champion Jason Johnston, a 6-foot-2, 290-pound native of Regina.

The events – putting the stone, hammer throw, weight for distance (similar to hammer throw, but with a heavier weight), weight for height (hurling a 56-pound weight straight up), and the ever-popular caber toss (throwing a telephone pole-sized log end over end) – have a distinctly medieval flavour to them.

It doesn’t take much imagination to picture these kilted competitors in a field in the old country, demonstrating feats of strength for the right – as traditional lore goes – to be chosen as one of 11th-century Scottish King Malcolm III’s personal bodyguards.

“You had men trying to prove themselves, and really it was (by) using things they had around them, very medieval-type instruments,” says Carl Jensen, a Central Saanich councillor and, since 2005, a competitor in amateur class heavy events. “It’s neat how it’s evolved into a sporting event, but it’s based back in medieval times.”

The 16-pound shotput, for example, is roughly the size of a Middle Ages cannonball, while other items to be thrown are similar to things one might have found around a blacksmith’s shop.

While there’s no doubt about the strength of the competitors, from the professionals vying for the top prize money and the Canadian title, down to the amateurs, Jensen makes a distinction between his sport and similar competitions.

“What differentiates it from something like Strongman is its lineage,” he says. “This is a full-on Highland Games, it’s about celebrating Scottish culture.”

Unlike Strongman, which is more about sustained strength, Jensen says, “a lot of what we do is about explosive strength. It’s one throw, it’s one toss. It’s more about technique.”

That explosiveness is one of the biggest differences spectators will notice between the amateurs and the pros this weekend.

As for amateurs, this weekend’s slate is the largest to date for the Victoria competition, with athletes coming from Alberta, Ontario, Washington, Oregon and California, and around B.C., including eight or 10 from Greater Victoria.

“This year we are going to be seeing record numbers in both the master (age 40 and over) men’s and women’s classes, as both are full at 12 athletes each,” Jensen says, noting the women’s field includes Kate Burton, ranked No. 2 in North America last year.

The breadth of competitors is a sign that “the Victoria heavy events competition has become one of the premiere competitions in the Pacific Northwest.”

The strength events are interspersed between the variety of other Highland competitions in such things as fiddling, drumming, bagpiping, sheep-dog herding and dancing.

The Canadian championship events get underway at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday (May 19-20). For a full schedule, visit victoriahighlandgames.com and click on The Games.

editor@vicnews.com