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Throwing high and far Scotsman style

Forest Grove's Dan Taylor excels at the Portland Highland Games


by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Dan Taylor of Forest Grove competes in the heavy hammer event at the 62nd annual Portland Highland Games last Friday at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham. Taylor threw 60 feet to win the event as part of the masters men's 60-plus class. GRESHAM — “I like to throw heavy things.”

So says Forest Grove resident Dan Taylor, sitting beneath the shade of his tent late Friday afternoon at the 62nd annual Portland Highland Games, a festival celebration of all things Scottish at Mt. Hood Community College.

Taylor, 61, has just finished competing in the men’s 60-plus class of the Scottish heavy athletics competition and it’s easy to see why they are such a good fit for him. All afternoon, strong, stout men — as well as a number of women — take turns lifting heavy objects of various shapes and sizes and throwing them as far or as high as they can.

Similar to the heptathlon and decathlon in track and field — Taylor’s background sport, incidentally — standings in each class are determined by aggregate performance. Heavy athletics competitors take part in eight events, and they earn points based on their finish within the field in each event.

First place is worth a point, fourth place is good for four points, and so on. The competitor with the lowest score after all the events is declared the winner.

Several of the events are analogous to those in track and field, but unlike that sport’s multi-events, Scottish heavy athletics is all about the throws.

This is just fine with Taylor, who long has been fascinated by the art of the throw. He threw the shot put and discus while at Crater High School in southern Oregon, and he also competed for two years on Brigham Young’s track team, he said, before getting married, starting a family and giving up the sport for about 25 years.

But he didn’t stay away forever, returning as a masters athlete.

“I like to throw stuff and if it’s a rock or a stick, it doesn’t matter,” Taylor explains. “I just like to throw. It’s a motion that has always felt good to me.”

Then he found Scottish heavy athletics. In 2002, after having heard about but never watched the sport, he traveled to the Celtic Highland Games in Winston, just south of Roseburg, to see what it was about.

“I was there watching for not more than a half an hour, and I just said, ‘I’ve gotta do this,’” Taylor recalled. “I went to the athletic director and I begged him, ‘Can I play? Can I play? Like right now? Can I join you guys?’”

Given Taylor’s previous throwing experience, the athletic director let him enter the in-progress event, and Taylor has been going strong ever since. Now, he is something of a Portland Highland Games expert, having taken part in every Portland event since 2003. He entered this year’s Highland Games, which are always staged the third weekend in July, with field records in four events (Portland Stone, 16-pound hammer, 28-pound weight for distance and 42-pound weight for distance).

Attracted by its motion — a whirling, spinning approach that is equal parts balletic and athletic — the weight for distance event is Taylor’s favorite. It resembles track and field’s discus throw, while hammer and shot put throwers would no doubt see resemblances to the Scottish hammer and open stone, respectively.

Other events are likely more unusual to the uninitiated eye. In weight over bar, Taylor and his competitors stand under an adjustable bar and try to one-handedly fling a 42-pound kettle bell-type weight over it. In the caber, participants lift a long, heavy log — grasping it at one end and balancing it against one shoulder — then try to propel the log end over end so that it lands at a 12 o’clock position in front of them.

Like any sport, Scottish heavy athletics has its dedicated practitioners and even professionals. In addition to the bulk of the class competitions set for Saturday, an invitational for North American professionals was scheduled.by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Taylor participated in the games' caber toss.

One entrant was Daniel McKim, a Scottish heavy athletics world champion, who spent Friday introducing John Salley to his sport. Salley, a former NBA player and television sports talk show host, was on hand with a film crew producing a spot for the Travel Channel, trying out events under McKim’s tutelage.

As for Taylor, over the course of the afternoon, he and his five yellow-shirted, kilt-donning competitors collectively lifted and threw thousands of pounds around on that field. Taylor fared the best, setting a couple field records for the class, winning six events and taking second place in the two others.

He earned several medals, a plaque and a Celtic dagger for his throwing prowess.

In some ways, these games are a nice warmup for an even bigger event for Taylor.

In September, he and his wife, Mary, will travel to Inverness in Scotland, where Taylor will take part in the Highland Games Masters World Championships. Taylor has competed in three previous world events — each time placing in the top four in his class but not winning — though all were on American soil. This year he travels for the first time to the homeland of Scottish heavy athletics, a sport which has cultivated within him a love for Scottish culture.

In the meantime, getting first place in his home state is fun, Taylor says, but it’s far from the only thing he takes away.

“The funnest thing is the competition and the camaraderie,” he notes. “We love bumping heads and cheering for each other and laughing at each other. And all of that is just as fun as the competition aspect.”

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