May Bank Holiday weekend played host to the biggest event in BUCS’ history, the University Outdoor Athletics Championships, which attracted a crowd of 55,000 people over four days to the Olympic stadium to watch some of the best athletes in the country pitted against each other.
Bristol University Athletics Club fielded a team of 30 athletes from various disciplines, including international athletes and members of the university high performance squad. The star of the weekend was Andrew Woods in the 800m. Andrew came fifth in the 1500m in the indoor competition and was set to do well outdoors. Posting the fastest time in the heats and running a personal best in the
semi-finals, Andrew was clearly on good form, and in the final he didn’t disappoint. Although a brisk pace was set from the off, the pack was still tightly bunched with 200m to go, and it was going to go down to a sprint finish and a test of strength. Coming down the home straight Andrew was locked in a tussle for the third position and was closing in all the way to the line, but just fell short of the bronze medal to achieve a richly deserved fourth place in a time of 1:51.46 mins.
The first Bristol athlete to compete in the stadium was Welsh international cross-country runner Gwenno Brown, who set the first of her two personal best performances of the weekend in the 5000m heats. In the final Gwenno replicated her fantastic first round performance, and then some, to break into the top ten and smash her own best time by 40 seconds. In the women’s
middle distances Hannah Pollak and Aoife Kelly, in the 800m and 1500m respectively, both ran well to qualify for semi-finals and each posted a personal best time in the process.
From the men, the best performances came from Will Hartley and freshers Ben Winstanley and John Ashcroft. Will had a nervous wait in the heats of the 400 hurdles to see if he had got through in a ‘fastest loser’ position after hitting the final hurdle hard but was deservedly given a place in the semi-finals where he ran well to place ninth overall, again in a new personal best time. In the 400m flat, first-year English student, Ben Winstanley ran consistently well in the heats and semi-finals, and looks set to be a star of Bristol athletics in the future. St Helens-based John Ashcroft ran well within himself in the heats and raced very competently in a tough semi final to add his name to the long list of Bristol athletes who achieved personal bests.
My own Olympic experience began on Saturday evening in the 4 x 400m relay. The team of Will Hartley, myself, Joe Thornton and Ben Winstanley were somewhat underdogs heading into the first heat lining up against the athletics superpowers of Birmingham, Sheffield Hallam and Leeds Met Carnegie. The tension was slowly building as we moved from the purpose built warm-up track to the main arena, down the same corridors that Usain Bolt and Mo Farah will be guided down in the coming months. We were then led out onto the track in front of a crowd of 46,000 excited spectators to line up for the race. Our first leg runner, Will Hartley, set off at a fantastic pace and managed to make up the stagger on several other teams before handing over to me. I just had one idea in my head, get into the lead and stay there, and I pushed hard from the off. Breaking to the inside lane after 100m, my plan seemed to be working, I had caught Leeds and Sheffield and had open track in front of me.
As I continued round the top bend the noise of the crowd built up almost as strongly as the lactic acid in my legs but I knew I had to keep pushing. I managed to hold the lead to the halfway point before handing over to fresher Joe Thornton who appeared to have a similar mentality. Running from the front in a 4 x 400m can often be quite daunting but Joe pushed hard and was still in the lead coming up to the bell and the final changeover. Ben Winstanley took over the baton for the final leg and set off on a well judged 400m. Unfazed when the fourth leg athlete from Sheffield Hallam came past with 200m to go, Ben dug in and started to inch by inch claw back the lead, and by the line the two runners were neck and neck, taking the decision to a photo finish. The big screen displayed what we had all been dreading, Sheffield had won by 0.08s, but we had set a new club record by seven seconds and qualified for the final. As we were guided away from the track we were greeted by former Olympian Seb Coe and the Epigram Sport Editor for interviews before being funnelled back into the depths of the stadium and the madness was over.
For everyone involved, be they from BUAC or elsewhere, this truly was an unforgettable weekend and for many was a once in a lifetime opportunity. The overall standard of competition in this Olympic year was incredible with five championship records being broken, and for Bristol athletes to compete as well as they did is an incredible achievement.
Andrew Woods: 4th 800m, 1:51.46 mins
Will Hartley: 9th 400m hurdles, 54.85s
Rainer Groh: 10th Long Jump, 6.57m
Charlie Hawkes: 14th High Jump, 1.90m
Will Hartley, John Brierly, Joe Thornton, Ben Winstanley: 8th, 3:23.08 mins
Ben Winstanley: 16th 400m, 50.58s
John Ashcroft: 15th 1500m, 3:51.87 mins
Gwenno Brown: 10th 5000m, 17:06.34 mins
Aoife Kelly:18th 1500m, 4:43.00 mins