From the Scotsman
Sandy Sutherland was a
leading Highland Games athlete of the 1950s and 60s who specialised in
“heavy events”, the best known being the caber toss but which also
feature the shot putt, the Scots wooden-shafted hammer (the Scots
hammer) and weight throws for height and distance. He won the highly
prized Scottish heavy events championship in 1956 and ’57 at its annual
Crieff venue and in 1959 claimed 3rd, the title decided on the highest
aggregate of points awarded for the individual disciplines.
A talented all-rounder,
he was particularly noted for shot putt and hammer throwing and had it
not been for the advent in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s of two of the
all-time greatest “heavies” – Bill Anderson and Arthur Rowe – Sandy may
have collected more Scottish titles. After retiring from competition he
maintained his enthusiasm and affection for the Games as heavy events
judge at various venues, officiating as recently as 2019 at Durness.
Considered a professional
as he competed for cash prizes, the world of amateur athletics was
closed to him but it is noteworthy that his winning shot putt in 1956 at
Crieff of 45’ 2” would have won the event comfortably at that year’s
Scottish Amateur Athletics Championships.
Sandy became involved in throwing almost by chance. One night, around
1949, when attending the Ardross Games dance, near Alness, he noticed
lying nearby the shot putt and Scots hammer that had been used earlier
in competition and began to try throwing them. Encouraged by his efforts
he started training, initially by tying a length of string to an old
hammer head for practice swings before finding a wooden shaft to secure
to the head to provide a proper implement.
Scots hammer throwing was a popular rural pursuit then and Sandy could
recall throwing in informal competitions with several others at Ardross
Mains during summer evenings. Without coaching or any systematic
weightlifting, he continued improving thanks to his assiduous training.
After starting at local Games, Sandy competed throughout Scotland and by
the mid 1950s was considered one of the best heavies on the circuit,
among strong competition from others like Lochearnhead hotelier Ewan
Cameron, Sandy Gray of Alford, Jock McLellan of Alness and Jay Scott of
In 1956, after winning all the heavy events at Aberlour Games, he
enjoyed his first national success at Crieff, relegating 1954 champion
Sandy Gray to second by a clear margin. In doing so he registered three
1sts, in light and heavy shot putts and light hammer, while 2nds in
heavy hammer and caber helped secure the title. He won the £20 overall
prize plus the individual events cash, making a total of around £45,
equivalent then to several weeks’ wages.
A year, later after
winning the light hammer and heavy shot putt, he retained the title,
with Ewen Cameron the 1953 champion second, while in 1959 he finished
3rd behind Anderson and Gray.
Over several years he also enjoyed success at the prestigious Aboyne and
Braemar Games, collecting numerous prizes across the range of
In 1964 he took part in a six-week tour of North America, performing
exhibitions of heavy events with fellow heavies Bill Anderson, Jock
McColl, Louis McInnes and Jay Scott. It was part of The Wonderful World
of Sport travelling sports exhibition which took in New York, Baltimore,
Chicago, Montreal, Toronto and Philadelphia among other destinations – a
memorably enjoyable experience.
Once retired from competing, as a man of integrity Sandy became a highly
valued and popular judge at numerous Games in the north, including
Helmsdale, Durness, Dingwall, Dornoch and his favourite, Lochinver,
where he held the light hammer record for many years. He used to joke
that he did his best weight for height mark there, “13’6” plus two fish
boxes”, the apparatus by then having reached its maximum height.
Alexander Sutherland was born on a farm near Portmahomack in Easter
Ross, the second oldest of six children of John, a farm grieve, and
Helen, nee Mackenzie. As his mother died when he was fairly young, Sandy
went to live with relatives on a farm at Ardross.
After completing his schooling there he began working on local farms,
through which he met future wife Gerlinde Koenig.
Linde, as she was known, had come over from southern Germany after the
war to be an au pair on a farm and the couple were married in Dingwall
in 1952. They enjoyed 63 happy years together, during which they had son
There were annual trips
by car to Germany to visit family, when Sandy would take his Scots
hammer to train, regularly to the surprise of Customs officers.
The family lived for years in Ardross, with Sandy leaving farm work for
HGV driving before moving to Kildary near Invergordon in the 1990s,
where he built his own house.
Away from family and the Games, Sandy enjoyed deer stalking, especially
on the Wyvis estate, and was known to bring three deer down from the
hill on his own.
A modest, unassuming individual who would help anyone, he was well liked
and respected, variously described as a “gentle giant” and “solid as a
rock”. He is survived by son David and grandchildren Georgina and Peter.