Tomatin Toss

by Thom Van Vleck

All lined up for the "Tomatin Toss" which was an attempt to break the Guinness Word Record for a mass caber toss! photo by Chad Ullom

USAWA members Chad Ullom and myself recently took a trip to Inverness, Scotland to take part in the Masters World Championship of Highland Games.  I will report on that later, but first I wanted to tell you about an exciting event Chad and I got to take part in.

There is a Guinness World Record for simultaneous Caber tossing and it stood at 53 Cabers.  Cabers are “logs” or “telephone poles” that are stood on end and the athlete has to pick it up, run with it, and flip it end over end for an “official turn”.  The previous record was held by a Highland Games in Fergus, Canada.  After the Games in Inverness we were invited with some 126 other throwers to try and break this record.  I have to be honest at this point and admit that Chad and I had some reservations regarding this as it could be quite dangerous with 126 logs flying through the air at once.  Previous attempts were very dicey!  But, in the end, we couldn’t pass up the chance to take part.

Tomatin Scotch Distillery was sponsoring the event so it was call the “Tomatin Toss”.

As we set up the sun was setting.  An official from Guinness had been flown in and he appeared to be a very proper Englishman!  He walked around with his head up and seemed to be scrutinizing everyone and everything!  We lined up on two sides and were throwing at one another….we had to question that!  There was a truck with a big screen TV at the end televising the event.  We had to wait for what seemed to be forever to get the “go”.

The instructions we received were a bit vague and this led to some confusion.  It’s tough enough to turn a caber but to do it on cue….well…that’s a real trick.  Chad is a master at the caber and I feel pretty confident with it myself.  I was only one of 6 that turned the caber in by age group of 20 athletes who were all proficient with the caber.  Still, it was a tall order!  The cabers were also not well made, as they were made for a “one time” turn.  This is NOT to say they preparation was poor…just that the cabers had been cut over the past 6 months and some had dried too much!  Chad and I knew we could have a caber snap on us and when that happens you never know what will happen.

Finally, we got a countdown.  As I began to “pick” (lift the caber into the tossing position) I had to simply focus on my caber and no one elses.  This put me at the total trust of the athletes around me that they wouldn’t lose control and dump it on my head.  As I heard the announcer hit “one” I ran up the caber and at zero gave it a pull….and much to my own pleasure it went flying over.  I glanced to my right and saw that Chad had successfully turned his and as it hit the ground it snapped in half!

While 126 had attempted and we only needed 54 for the record it was apparent as I looked around we might have a problem.  Many of the athletes were not as adept at the caber and had failed to get a turn.  Others had misjudged the timing and while they turned the caber it was not “simultaneous” with the rest.  The video was reviewed over and over and we were asked to stay in position as the judges reviewed the video and scored each turn individually.  The Guinness judge made his way up and down the field repeatedly…..about a half an hour went by and we were beginning to wonder if we had done it!

Finally, the Guinness judge took the microphone….and he did milk it a bit….but in the end he declared we had broken the record with 66 successful turns.  We all immediately headed to the beer tent to celebrate….not just the Guinness record…but the weekend as a whole.  I was really actually pretty glad to just survive the whole thing.  I remember as a kid reading the Guinness record book and wondering if I would ever be a part of it….and now I am!

USAWA Members GO SCOTTISH!

by Thom Van Vleck

Chad Ullom and Thom Van Vleck at the 2012 Master's World Championships in Greenville, South Carolina.

Chad Ullom sets up "to pick" the Caber.

Recently, Chad Ullom and myself  traveled to Greenville, SouthCarolina to participate in the  2012 Master’s World Championships (MWC) of Scottish HighlandGames.  Most USAWA members know Chad for his lifting.  I knew Chad as a Highland  Games athlete long before his decorated USAWA lifting career.   As a matter of fact, I think I have competed with Chad in more competitions than any other athlete ever between our Highland Games exploits and USAWA meets!   Chad just turned 40 and has made a bit of a “comeback” to his Highland Games roots to compete in the the MWC.  In his first MWC he garnered a 4th place finish out of about 20 throwers in his class (40-44).  I placed 6th in my group (45-49) which also had about 20 competitors.  The overall competition had over 100 throwers!  So, as you can tell, this is a very competitive group.

Chad shows explosiveness and outstanding form as he drives the caber into the air.

First, a quick primer for those of you who don’t know what the Highland Games are.  There are 9 events that include Hammer Throwing, Weight for Distance throwing, stone putting (think “shot put”), and Weight Over Bar event, a sheaf toss, and the uniquely Scottish event, the Caber toss.  This event involves picking up a tree trunk, running with it, then attempting to flip it end over end.  You can win individual events, but the goal is the overall win which is much like the “total” in weightlifting.

Chad was in an extremely stacked class which was eventually won by Braidy Miller.  Braidy has held the NCAA record in the discus and I believe the indoor weight and was an All American in those events and National Champion.  He missed going to the 1992 Olympics by a fraction.  But Chad was able to pull the caber win out in a decisive manner.  As a matter of fact, only Braidy and Chad turned the caber at all and  both of Chad’s turns were superior to Braidy’s.  So, even though Braidy was victorious, Chad won the caber toss and to me, that is a special event to win due to it being the premier Scottish event!

..... and Chad seems to be trying to push the caber over from afar as he completes the winning caber toss at the 2012 Master's World Championship in Greenville, South Carolina. (Caber photos by Melanie Mullally)

I had hoped to win my 4th Weight Over Bar event at the World’s, but it was not to be.  Still, 2nd place in that event makes me proud and I was so close to winning!  But that will only make me work out even harder to get that title back next year!  I would also like to point out that two other JWC members who aren’t USAWA members went with me and won titles.  Jim Spalding won the under 200lb over 50 class and Bill Leffler won the 55-59 group.  So the JWC did well!

So, now you know me and Chad’s secret.  We put on skirts and toss telephone poles when we aren’t lifting in USAWA meets.  But we have several USAWA brothers and sisters that have that “other” passion as well such as Dean Ross, Mike Murdock, Dave Glasgow, Scott Campbell, just to name a few!   Chad and I are already making plans for next years MWC to be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico.