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He ain't heavy, But His Rock Is

The Jaialdi Strongman Competition


"So, How much can you bench press?"

Perhaps this question has been posed to you once or twice by a fellow average Joe while lifting weights at your local gym. For many, the answer is of little consequence. For others, it is the unofficial measure of physical strength.

For the typical Basque weightlifter, however, the standard is quite different: The question is posed from a alternate perspective, "How many times can you lift a 600-pound block of concrete onto your shoulder?"

This is called Harrijasoketa, Basque for "stone lifting," and like all Basque weightlifting events, the measure of one's strength goes way beyond the bench press, a standard lift that just about anyone can perform with relative ease. Basque strength is the sum of an equation determined by variables of speed, power and endurance, culminating in traditional events brought forth from the old country.

"These guys perform farm sports, or rural sports, which consist of work-based competitions," said Jeremy Malone, Jaialdi 2005 Sports Night co-chairman. "There is an anvil lift, where the competitor touches the anvil to the ground, then lifts it above his head. The winner is the one who performs the lift the most times."

Sports Night

Similar to the World's Strongest Man competitions on ESPN, where contestants from across the globe pit their strength against each other in lifts that may seem unorthodox, even a bit bizarre, to onlookers, Basque weightlifting is uniquely Basque. The lifts were contrived by Basques in the old country and are performed at celebrations around the world. Although much of the lifting is performed as demonstrations, it is a competitive sport which is divided into weight classes. Coming to Boise on Thursday are two heavyweights and one lightweight lifter from the Basque country in Spain.

Other events include Astunketa, a competition where athletes carry weights for a distance. Forms of this competition involve dragging a half-ton concrete block, or performing the Basque necktie, where men repeatedly lift a 230-pound granite ball tied around their necks. Then there are the Txingas, 110-pound weights carried in each hand while racing an opponent across a set distance. Also on tap is Aizkolariak, or "wood chopping," and specially trained tug-o'-war teams.

"It's really amazing to watch," said Malone, who has been involved with Jaialdi since its inception in 1987. "These teams are highly specialized to take steps in unison, when the coach commands it. Another interesting competition to watch are the guys who pull a rope that is connected to a pulley and is attached to a bail of hay. They have to pull the bail to a certain height, then let it fall, which lifts them up into the air. That's how they get momentum for the next pull. It's fun to watch."

other basque sports

Pelota is a ball game using a basket tied to the wrist and used to throw a ball to a fronton wall. Jai Alai is a modified version of Pelota. It may be the origin of hand ball.

From the Basque fishing industry comes rowing, the Regata de Traineras. While the British are credited for inventing the regatta, it may well have been the Basque that originated the tradition of boat racing.

Idi Dema is a competition of draying by animal. Very popular in the countryside, animals compete by pulling weights up to four tons. This may have been the precurser to tractor pulls in America.

Bolos, a Basque version of bowling, has unique characteristics requiring lots of physical energy. There are three variations of the game in the Basque region, Ezkuzulo, Iruzulo and Bolo-palma. The most widespread variation, Iruzulo, uses three pins and a slightly oval shaped ball.

Palanka is a javelin-like field competition, somewhat of a cross between the traditional javelin and discus. The javelin itself, however, weighs between 10 and 25 pounds.

The Jaialdi Sports Night takes place on Thursday at the Western Idaho Fairgrounds and costs $5 for youths and $10 for adults. Not all of the sports mentioned in this article may be played at this event. For more information, visit