There was plenty of action at the 2009 U.S. National Highland Athletic Championships, and David Barron called the action for IronMind®.
Kerry Overfelt wins the 2009 U.S. National Highland Athletic Championships
By David Barron
2009 marked the 22nd annual Celtic Classic in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and it was the third year of hosting the official U.S. National Highland Athletic Invitational Championships. With 2007 winner Larry Brock and nine-time champion Ryan Vierra both sidelined with injuries, the door was open for a new athlete to claim the title.
The ten American athletes who qualified for the biggest show in U.S. Highland Games were in top shape coming in. Former world champion Sean Betz was strong out of the gate, winning both the light hammer with 132 feet and the 22 lb. Braemar stone, with a standing throw of over 42 feet. But in the 56 lb. weight for distance, Kerry Overfelt, the 38-year old "Kentucky Cannonball," left the rest of the field in his dust with a massive throw of over 47 feet , setting a new field record and winning the event by almost three feet over defending champion Harrison Bailey.
In the sheaf toss, hometown favorite Harrison came into his own, thrilling the crowd by sending the bag over 34 feet for the win, beating out Sean and Kerry, who both cleared 32 feet. Harrison was strong in the caber as well, taking third place with a 12:15 toss of the 19-ft. 130-lb. stick, just ahead of Sean and Kerry. At the end of the day, Kerry was in the lead by only one point over Harrison and Sean, who were both tied in second place.
On Sunday, the weather finally broke and the rains came, making the footing difficult. The first event was the heavy hammer competition, where Kerry claimed the event with a great come from behind throw of 111 ft. The unofficial highlight of the weekend came in the last round, when Will Barron angled a throw into the corner of the field, sending the hammer smashing through the side of the athlete's portable toilet (luckily unoccupied). Field judge Don McKenzie bravely entered the john and measured the throw from inside. As MC and former champion Steve Pulcinella announced, "this is why we'll never be an Olympic sport."
The muddy field didn't seem to bother the athletes in the open stone competition, with six of them throwing well over 51 ft. But in a field full of accomplished throwers it was newcomer Dan McKim from Kansas City, Missouri who launched the stone past 55 ft. to claim the win. Dan had a little bit of help with his technique from "the Godfather" of the Highland Games, many-time champion Paul Ferency, who was on hand to give technical advice and tell everyone how expensive everything is today.
A ninth-place finish in the stone put, Kerry's least favorite event, made it a whole new ball game, as Sean's 53-ft. throw put him in a solid first place overall, while Harrison's 52-ft. throw put him only two points behind Kerry. To pull out the win, Kerry knew he would have to put up some big numbers in the last two events. He did not disappoint, winning the 28-lb. weight with an all-time personal best throw of over 91 ft. Harrison was second with 88 ft., but Kerry clearly had the momentum going into the final event. In the 56-lb. weight for height, he and Sean both spun the weight over 17 ft., staying even with world record holder Zolkewicz who was worn down from competing at the New Hampshire Highlander contest just a week before. Harrison took the win by nailing 18 ft. cleanly, with the spinning technique he pioneered.
After the results were added and re-checked twice, Kerry Overfelt was announced as the 2009 National Champion, winning the overall competition by just half a point over Harrison. At 38, the self-proclaimed "hardest working athlete in the Highland Games" has become one of the most dominant athletes on the professional circuit, and now he is only the third man to win the Celtic Classic since Ryan Vierra's near-decade of dominance, a huge achievement for him.