Scottish Strongman Donald Dinnie
Donald Dinnie (1837-1916) was the son of a stonemason, born at Balnacraig near Aberdeenshire. The Scott Strongman had a successful athletic career of over 50 years and participated in over 11,000 competitions. Due to his successive wins, Dinnie was renowned as “The Nineteenth Century’s Greatest Athlete.”
Donald became a stonemason like his father. He would spend his spare time training and competing at Highland Games. His decision to become a full-time athlete only solidified after he competed at the inaugural Powderhall Meeting in 1870, at the age of 33. His reputation grew fast and he got sponsorship from the American and Canadian Caledonian Societies to compete at their 1870 games. After successful competition, he returned to the games in 1872 and in 1882.
Donald Dinnie’s Sporting Career
Dinnie entered his first sporting event at 16 years old. He participated in a local event in the nearby village of Kincardine O’Neil, defeating the local strongman David Forbes to take the first place, and won a £1 prize.
As a sportsman, Dinnie grew into an all-round athlete and reined as the Scottish champion for 21 years (1856-1876). He excelled in hurdles, pole vault, sprint, putting the stone, long and high jump, tossing the caber, hammer throw, and wrestling. He became a sensation of the 19th century with widespread fame, riches, and success. Among the titles he held over his career include the World Champion Wrestler and The Strong Man of the Age. He was also regarded as the “greatest athlete in the world” during the 19th century.
The major documented achievement of Dinnie during his career include over 2,000 wrestling matches, 2,000 hammer throwing contests, 500 hurdle and running events, and 200 weightlifting contests. During his career, he earned at least £25,000, which translates to about $2.5 million today. Interestingly enough, his image continues to be used in commercial product endorsements in modern Scotland.
As a top Scotland Athlete, Dinnie travelled greatly. In his native land, he competed in sixteen Highland Games. These games followed a format similar to a parade of the clans, bagpipe playing, best dressed Highlander, and athletic sporting like jumping, running, and throwing. Athletes could excel in competitions like long or short race, pole vault, or throwing heavy hammer. Dinnie performed well in all competitions and got recognition from international organizations. The games also served as a platform to expand his career and participate in American sports.
Dinnie toured the Caledonian Circuit in the United States for the first time in 1870 and earned a respectable amount in price money. At the age of 33, Dinnie was given the title of “The Nineteenth Century’s Greatest Athlete” despite being criticized for his incredible strength. He would later continue to tour Australia and New Zealand as a successful professional athlete in his sixties.
Dinnie’s Legacy: The Dinnie Stones
Among the major achievements Donald Dinnie is known for is the Dinnie Stones. This was a feat of strength he undertook in 1860, giving birth to his legacy. The Dinnie Stones comprised of two granite boulders that weighted 332 kgs/733 pounds which he would carry for a DISTANCE OF 5.2 m/17 feet, across Potarch bridge. Since then, more than 90 men and women have lifted the stones, and only six have carried them the full distance. Lifting the stones still remains a perpetual challenge, and they are currently displayed outside the Potarch Café and Restaurant. Participants of the challenge are required to lift or carry the stones simultaneously without the use of any kind of lifting aids.
Dinnie remained active in the public world until 1912 by serving as a judge in High Games, theatres, or veteran events. In his 70s, he struggled financially but performed as a strongman in London. He was known for his act that involved supporting a platform of a large table on which two people danced. London authorities eventually terminated his performing license based on his advanced age. A benefit concert was later organization to provide Dinnie with a small annuity for his retirement years. He died at the age of 78 years in London.
Dennie’s legacy lives on. In 2002, he was inducted into Edinburgh’s Scottish Sports Hall of Fame. A cut glass trophy was awarded to him, with Gordon Dinnie (a relative) accepting the award on his behalf. Other such awards that Gordon has accepted include an original astrakhan breastplate with the 19 medals he wore between 1860 and 1896 and a 58 cm carved statuette of Dinnie.
The achievements that Dinnie made as a strongman are remarkable. Although many of his medals were stolen when he went to compete in the USA, some of his surviving awards are stored in the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum. They include a silver belt he received from his contemporaries in 1901 and 59 silver medals.