This weekend may be the first time you can see people in kilts hurling straw-stuffed burlap bags with pitchforks in downtown Springfield… but hopefully it won’t be the last.

June 12 marks the inaugural Abe’s Ancient Athletics & Strength Expo. The highland games event is hosted by Ancient Athletics, the Athletic Unit of the St. Andrews Society of Central Illinois.

St. Andrews Society of Illinois promotes and spreads Celtic culture through involvement and contributions in the community. In addition to Ancient Athletics, other units of the society include Pipes and Drums, Dance, and Heritage.

INB is a proud sponsor of this weekend’s highland games, which take place in downtown Springfield on the corner of 5th and Capitol. Registration begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, with the athlete meeting 10:45 a.m. competition starts 11:00 a.m.

Outdoor Event Free to Spectators

“With the loosening of COVID restrictions, there is a pent-up demand for these types of events because so many of them have been cancelled over the last 18 months,” says Chris Nickell, treasurer of the St. Andrews Society of Illinois.

“Since this is our first year, we are keeping expectations in check. Many Athletes who compete in these types of events plan their competition seasons well in advance. Therefore, we expect to double in size next year as we will be on the calendar sooner for the long-term planners.”

The highland games consist of 9 events to test one’s strength against others.

Abe Lincoln as Highlander

  • Braemer Stone
  • Open Stone
  • Light Weight for Distance
  • Heavy Weight for Distance
  • Heavy Hammer
  • Light Hammer
  • Caber Toss
  • Heavy Weight Over Bar
  • Sheaf Toss

Other events may include MAS Wresting, Tug-O-War and Strongman.

Games Rooted in Tradition

Competitors take part in eight different classes based on experience and ability. They carry out highland games traditions dating back to the eleventh century and perhaps even earlier. The men who participated in these acts of strength showed off their manhood by using items that were commonly found in the Scottish Highlands, such as stones or logs.

The Braemar Gathering claims to be the first recorded Highland Games, born from King Malcolm testing the athletes in a hill race to choose a messenger who was not only physically fit but also quick.

Other events were added throughout time to test the athletes’ strength and speed. The first formally organized, annual gathering dates back to around 1820. Though originally a sport exclusively for men, women now participate in Highland Games competitions.

Plans to Go Bigger, Better

In Springfield, plans are already being made for the next highland games.

“Our hope is to not only to expand in the Highland Games arena but also in the Strongman and Weightlifting and MAS Wrestling worlds.  Our goal is to make this a broadly appealing strength event that will attract competitors from all over the Midwest,” Nickell says.

Curious, but not sure where to start? Most events this weekend will have a quick instruction for first-timers on Friday night. Check the Ancient Athletics web page for first-time participants to see more information.