Good Morning Saline, from Highland Games Athlete Merl Lawless

Lawless is one of the athletes from around the country who will participate in the ancient Highland Games at the Saline Celtic Festival Saturday.

Today's Good Morning Saline greeting is from Merl Lawless, an athlete in the Highland Games at the Saline Celtic Festival which begin at noon Saturday at Millpond Park.

Lawless is director of a group called Ancient Athletics, a unit of the St. Andrew's Society of Central Illinois.

According to Lawless, these ancient Scottish games pre-date the Olympics.

"This is a 1,000-year-old sport," Lawless said. "These kinds of competitions were going on, clan vs. clan. Some say it was a way for the military elite to pull the best athletes out for battle."

The events are based on the tools available at the time.

"They're all about trees and rocks and hammers and stones," Lawless said.

There are nine events in the Highland Games in Saline. 

There are two stone toss events. There are two hammer throws (16 and 22 pounds). There are two more weight throwing events that resemble the modern discus event. There is another event that challenges athletes to throw a heavy weight over a bar.

Lawless said his favorite event is the sheaf toss (see video). Contestants put a 20-pound burlap bag on a pitchfork and then try to toss it over a bar. Another popular event is the caber toss, in which athletes attempt to toss a 20-foot-long, 75-pound piece of wood.

The events take strength. But, Lawless said, they also require technique and attention to detail.

Lawless said the burly group who'll compete Saturday are a friendly bunch.

"It's not like any other sport. We all compete in these different classes, but we all help each other," he said.


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