THE Highland Games season is now upon us and the tradition with strong links to the Olympics will generate an estimated £25million to the Scottish economy.
Around 80 games take part in the country, with 60 organised by the Scottish Highland Games Association (SHGA), welcoming over 150,000 visitors annually, many of them from overseas, including those with Scottish ancestry.
As the world limbers up for the 31st summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August, events generated in Scotland provided inspiration for two of the Games disciplines.
The centuries-old tradition led to the hammer throw and shot-put being included in the Olympic track and field programme more than 120 years ago.
The two events are two of the disciplines that still form part of the programme at both the Highland Games and the Olympics. Another, the tug o’ war, was later dropped by Olympics’ organisers.
READ MORE: A history of the Scottish Highland Games
Featuring piping, Highland dancing and a range of light and heavy athletics events, the Highland Games celebrate Scotland’s culture and heritage.
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.”
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 feet 5in, which was 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 16feet 3in. He had held the record jointly with Geoff Capes, who had first set it in 1982 throwing 16feet.
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.
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.
Upcoming Highland Games include:
4 June Helensburgh & Lomond Highland Games, Rugby Ground, Helensburgh, Argyll
4 June Cornhill Highland Games, Cornhill Playing Field, Cornhill, Banff
5 June Markinch Highland Games, John Dixon Park, Markinch, Fife
11 June Cupar Highland Games, Duffus Park, Cupar, Fife
12 June Strathmore Highland Games, Glamis Castle, Glamis, Angus
18 June Newburgh Highland Games, Robbie’s Park, Newburgh, Fife
18 June Oldmeldrum Sports & Highland Games, The Pleasure Park, Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire
19 June Aberdeen’s Highland Games, Hazlehead Park, Aberdeen
25 June Ceres Highland Games, The Bow Butts, Ceres, Fife
25 June Drumtochty Highland Games, Drumtochty Castle Grounds, Auchenblae, Aberdeenshire