A look back to another unforgettable year at Team Bath

21 December 2014

Olympic and Paralympic titles, World Championship success and 27 Commonwealth Games medals are just some of the reasons that 2014 has been another unforgettable year of sport at the University of Bath.

And the year ahead promises to be equally memorable, with the Modern Pentathlon European Championships and Australia’s Rugby World Cup squad both being hosted at the Sports Training Village.

The undoubted highlight of 2014 came on Valentine’s Day when British Skeleton star Lizzy Yarnold – after two years of honing her skills on the world-class push track at the university – succeeded landlady Amy Williams as Winter Olympic skeleton champion in Sochi.

The 26-year-old was dominant throughout two days of competition at the Sanki Sliding Centre, finishing 0.97secs clear of her nearest rival – the biggest winning margin in Olympic history.

It was the perfect way to round off an outstanding season from Yarnold, who only failed to finish on the podium once during 2013-14 as she won the FIBT World Cup.

Joining Yarnold in Sochi was University of Bath mechanical engineering PhD student Dom Parsons, who finished an impressive tenth in the men’s rankings on his Olympic debut.

British Bobsleigh athletes demonstrated the great strides they have made since locating more permanently to the University of Bath in 2010 as John Jackson piloted GBR1 – also featuring Bruce Tasker, Stuart Benson and Joel Fearon – to a fantastic fifth-placed finish in the men’s four-man competition in Sochi.

Jackson’s partner Paula Walker – who gave birth to the couple’s first child, Poppy Mai, in November – was 12th in the women’s event with Rebekah Wilson.

At the ensuing Paralympic Games, University of Bath mathematics graduate Kelly Gallagher and her guide Charlotte Evans won Britain’s first Winter Paralympic Gold of all time in the visually impaired Alpine Skiing Super G event.

Bath’s reputation for excellence in winter sport was enhanced last month when the Great Britain luge development squad officially adopted the university as a training base.

They will use the 140m outdoor push track, which is currently undergoing a major upgrade to improve warm-up and ancillary facilities.

PentathlonGB will also benefit from improved training facilities, with the shooting range – currently based by the push-track – with the adent of a newly-built facility next to the athletics track.

The top modern pentathletes from across the continent will get to experience the facilities from August 17-23, 2015 when the University of Bath stages the European Championships.

The Sports Training Village will host all four stages and five sports of the competition, including the equestrian discipline which will take place on the athletics in-field after which it will be fully-restored!

It will be one of the early opportunities for athletes for set the qualifying standard for the Rio 2016 Olympics and PentathlonGB’s stars – who are based at the university – will be keen to make the most of home advantage.

London 2012 silver-medallist Samantha Murray goes into the new year full of confidence after being crowned as World Champion in stunning style in September – one of three medals (a gold and two silvers) won by GB at the event.

The 25-year-old Politics and French graduate, who became only the fourth British woman to win the world title, set a modern pentathlon short-course world record for the 200m freestyle swim before calmly moving from third to first in the final run/shoot discipline.

Murray had previously won a mixed relay silver with Joe Evans at the European Championships in Hungary, where Sam Curry and Tom Toolis also claimed men’s relay bronze.

Kate French achieved the best result of her modern pentathlon career to date as she finished fourth, just ten seconds outside the medals, on her World Cup Final debut in Florida.

And the future of the sport looks bright following Francesca Summers, Jo Muir and Alice Fitton’s World Junior Championship gold-medal success in Poland.

Standing on top of the podium is a familiar feeling for University of Bath graduate Heather Stanning and Minerva Bath patron Helen Glover, who continued to dominate women’s pair rowing during 2014.

The London 2012 Olympic champions, whose route to the top started on the GB Rowing Team’s Start programme at the University of Bath, won a first World Championship title together in Amsterdam in August.

Hoping to follow in the golden girls’ successful slipstream is Sam Courty, a current rower on the Start programme in Bath who in two years – under the guidance of coach Dan Harris – has gone from a novice to winning World Under-23 Championship silver with the women’s eight in Italy.

Also making waves during 2014 have been the thriving group of swimmers coached by Dave McNulty and Graeme Antwhistle at the British Gas National Centre Bath.

Chris Walker-Hebborn – the only swimmer to have been with the centre since it opened in 2009 – finally claimed the titles he had been threatening for years when he won a golden hat-trick at the European Championships in Berlin.

Two of his triumphs came in the 100m backstroke and men’s 4x100m medley, replicating the success he had enjoyed at the Tollcross Swimming Centre during the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Also climbing onto the top of the podium for the first time at an international competition was Siobhan-Marie O’Connor, whose winning time in the 200m individual medley was the quickest in the world this year.

The 19-year-old also won four silver medals and a bronze in Glasgow before finishing the year with three silver medals at the FINA World Short-Course Championships in Doha.

Teenager Jay Lelliott, part of the University of Bath’s swimming programme and coached by Mark Skimming, also took European bronze in the 400m freestyle on his senior British debut.  Lelliott’s performances were one of the highlights of the student year which included a British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) victory for tennis and top points scoring for badminton.

Another University of Bath athlete to win Commonwealth Games gold, meanwhile, was Team Bath Judo Club’s Megan Fletcher, who claimed the under-70kg title for England.

And weightlifter Zoe Smith, who does some of her training at the Sports Training Village, picked up top prize in the under-58kg category.

That took the total of Commonwealth gold medals for University of Bath athletes past and present to five, with 14 silvers and eight bronze medals also being won. That would have put Bath 13th on the final medal table, just ahead of Wales.

Perhaps the most emotional of those medals was won by Scottish hurdler Eilidh Child, part of Malcolm Arnold’s training group at the Sports Training Village.

She had to settle for 400m hurdles silver in front of her home crowd at Hampden Park but struck gold less than a month later at the European Championships in Zurich, where she also helped Britain’s 4x400m relay team to bronze.

Child also captained the Great Britain & Northern Ireland team for the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland, again winning relay bronze.

Training partner Andy Pozzi narrowly missed out on a 60m hurdles medal in his final race before injury ended his season prematurely but he is back in training now and has his sights set on the World Championships.

Team Bath Netball went into 2014 as reigning Superleague champions but had to settle for fourth place this time round after a season of near misses and last-gasp defeats as well as a frustrating injury count.

They will be looking to challenge for the title again in 2015 after bringing in New Zealand’s Elizabeth “Bessie” Manu as their first-ever overseas player.

Former Team Bath Superleague star Clare Elsley made a miraculous return to netball this year, helping England to silver and bronze medals at the inaugural World Indoor Championships in South Africa – despite being told she would never play again after collapsing with a debilitating heart condition.

Elsley also plays hockey for Team Bath Buccaneers, whose men’s team are top of the NOW:Pensions League Men’s Conference West going into 2015. They also made history in December by appearing at the Indoor Hockey 5s Championship – the highest level of indoor hockey in the country – for a first time.

Paralympic sport at the University of Bath has continued to go from strength to strength this year, with swimmer Stephanie Millward winning a magnificent seven medals at the IPC European Championships in Holland and athlete Paul Blake claiming two medals at the IPC European Championships in Swansea.

Potential stars of the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Games also attended two training camps at Claverton Down as the University of Bath continued its successful partnership with ParalympicsGB.

Also making the most of the world-class facilities this year have been Premier League Academy coaches, who have been looking at what they can learn from the Olympic sports.

Southampton FC has, of course, had an Academy at Bath for many years – and 2014 was particularly memorable for three players who came through it.

Gareth Bale, the world’s most expensive player, scored the winning goal for Real Madrid in both the Spanish Cup and the Champions League final, while Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana represented England at the World Cup before completing multi-million moves to Manchester United and Liverpool respectively.

It is rugby’s turn for the World Cup in 2015 and the University of Bath will have an active role to play in the big competition after being selected by England Rugby 2015, the RWC 2015 organising committee, as the training base for Australia.

The news of our selection as a Team Base came hard on the heels of some spectacular rugby results closer to home with student Freddie Clarke helping the Great Britain team to win the World University sevens title. His selection for this event came after the University of Bath sevens team, coached by Aaron James, represented England in the European Championships which they won.

Australia’s impending visit is further recognition of the outstanding facilities the University of Bath already has to offer – and which promise to get even better in the months ahead as state-of-the-art improvement work on the Olympic-sized swimming pool and major changing room refurbishments are completed.

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