Jedburgh Border Games – said to be the “Blue Riband” of the Border Games circuit - returns next weekend as the open athletics season reaches Riverside Park on Saturday.
Steeped in tradition, and with the biggest prize money on the open athletic summer season, the ancient Jethart Games will be celebrate its 164th anniversary.
The main event on a bumper card is the 110 metres handicap which has a first prize pot of £3,000 plus a coveted medal. With £50 up for grabs for each heat winners as well, the competition always promises to be fierce when it comes to the Jed-Forest sprint.
John Steede, games treasurer since 1984 and a stalwart both on and off the track said: “The Jed Sprint is still the one everybody wants to win. I would say it is one of the best in Scotland.
“The Jed Sprint has the biggest prize pot in Scotland, equaled only by the Scottish Athletics’ meet in Edinburgh.”
First held in 1853 up the Dunion to mark the coming of age of the 8th Marquis of Lothian, ‘Jethart Games’ frequently attracted crowd of some 5,000 to watch running, leaping, pole vaulting, shot putting and wrestling. Competitors came from Tyneside, Northumberland and all the main Border towns. Today competitors come from even further afield, with the event attracting athletes from as far afield as the Highland circuit.
And while the days of the ‘big sprint’ attracting 26 heats and the grounds attracting 30 or more bookmakers may be long gone John is confident the future of the games is secure for a few years yet. “We certainly have a good influx of youngsters on the circuit so that bodes well for the future,” he said. “I would think we will have the usual 10 heats this year for the big sprint. It’s a full programme we have, with plenty of different distances for youths and seniors.
“We cater for athlete of all ages from nine years up.”
Jedforest Instrumental Band will play around the town at 6am, and further entertainment will come from the town’s pipe band during the afternoon interval.
The games moved from the Dunion to Lothian Park in 1878 and stayed there until the start of the Second World War in 1939. After the war, they moved to the rugby grounds at Riverside Park in 1946, where they have been held ever since.
“Back in the 1950s and ’60s, we were the biggest games in Scotland, and we are still labelled the blue riband of the Scottish athletics circuit.
“We are hoping for good weather and a big crowd this year. It’s a great way to round off the festival.”
An integral part of Jethart’s big few weeks, the games committee also organises the annual festival fancy-dress parade that takes place on the Friday evening.
John added: “We are so very fortunate that we have lots of sponsors we can rely on every year, and we couldn’t run the games without them.
“We also offer over £8,500 prize money at the games and over £500 in prize money for the fancy dress.
“We also manage to support the town through donations to both the instrumental and pipe bands, pensioners’ associations and last year’s Christmas lights fund.”
With 34 years’ committee service and countless wins on the athletics circuit himself since the 1980s, veteran runner and coach John is part of a working committee of 17 which meets throughout the year to organise the games.
“We must be doing something right as we were named the celebration of sport event of the year in 2015,” he added.