Well, it turns out that the Highland Games consists of sporting activities such as cycling, running, caber tossing, hammer throwing, marching band marching and eating lots of unhealthy food. I had a really good time. Maybe it was the sunshine, or being in Scotland, or the sound of lots of Scottish accents or perhaps it was the constant bagpipe music in the background. Whatever it was, I’m glad I went.
We turned up at midday and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. There were bouncy castles, lots of carnival games that you can never win (such as throwing the hoop over the prize and kicking a football through a football-sized hole), kilt-wearing pipe bands practicing all over the place and there was a grass 400m running track in the middle with an area in the centre for hammer throwing and caber-tossing (more about that later).
First up was some sprint cycle racing. I’ve always been scared by the idea of fixed-hub bikes (the ones with no brakes and you can’t stop pedalling on them – no free-wheeling) so I admire those who can do it. But those who do it on grass are even more crazy! The racing was all handicapped so that the really fast guys started at the back and the slow people just about started on the finish line. My brother kept on hoping for a crash to spark things up but it wasn’t to be.
A little later on we got to see some caber tossing. They really do use huge telegraph poles and managed to break one of them before the end of the competition. I had no idea who won but there were a couple of guys who made it look easy and a couple more who made it look about as hard as I’d probably find it (i.e. balancing the thing upwards before you even think about throwing it requires a high degree of skill). We then proceeded to watch some Scottish wrestling.
Two men in kilts hug each other and then try to throw each other onto the ground as hard as possible. Anybody from the crowd could challenge the guys if they wanted but I thought I’d pass I’d most probably have broken a nail or an arm.
After losing some money trying to kick a football at some targets we stood watching the athletes warming up for the 200m sprint. As a runner myself I can always tell the difference between someone who does weights in the gym to look good versus someone who actually is really fast. Anyway, this bearded guy appears and straight away I said to my brother “my money’s on him, look at his thighs!”. The guy was in awesome shape and as I remarked “he reminds me of that Scottish sprinter, what was his name, Dougie?”, “Walker” my brother corrected.
Anyway, he lined up about 40m behind the front runner and was clearly the most handicapped (i.e. fastest) runner there. As the gun went I knew he was quality – he was so fast! The commentator then said over the tannoy “and watch out starting at the back is the former European 200m champion Dougie Walker, he’s the class act”. And he was. I couldn’t believe how fast he was travelling as he went down the home straight, easily overtaking everybody else. I’ve never seen an athlete like that up close before and I didn’t realise just how fast humans can run – it was amazing.
For those of you who don’t know, Dougie Walker was on fire in 1998 and was really looking like our Olympic hopeful for Sydney but tested positive for nandrolone and got a two year ban. He protested his innocence and I have no doubt in my mind that he was innocent (even the ATP managed to accidentally dope seven players ). Anyway, he wasn’t allowed to race at Sydney and has recently had surgery on both ankles. I was quite sad that such a star has had such a rough ride but it was great to see him back in excellent shape. He’s been racing quite a bit too and hopefully we’ll see him on the world stage again soon. Anyway, seeing him was the highlight of the day for me and I’d have shaken his hand if he’d not been behind the fence.
All in all it was a great day out with a nice atmosphere. And the weather held which is always a plus-point. As I drove away from the games I was struck by something else. The roads are so quiet compared to Yorkshire. They’re twisty and great fun in a fast car and yet I only came up on about 4 cars all the way back – you get so used to being stuck in traffic that it’s a joy to be on the open roads in beautiful scenery. I really got the chance to throw my BMW coupe around the corners – superb, worth every penny. I love Scotland!