Royalty, rugby and Rio glory – a 50th-anniversary year to remember at University of Bath

26 December 2016

Outstanding success at the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games plus the visit of sporting and actual royalty ensured that the University of Bath’s 50th anniversary was celebrated in fitting style during 2016.

When the University received Royal Charter status on October 25, 1966, there were no sporting facilities on the Claverton Down campus. Five decades later, it has developed into what Director of Sport Stephen Baddeley believes is “the most vibrant, exciting and dynamic sporting environment in the country”.

The University’s international reputation for sporting excellence was further enhanced during the summer as 20 athletes based at the £30million Sports Training Village (STV) competed at the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, winning a terrific ten medals between them.

Paul Blake was crowned as Paralympic Champion in the T36 400m and also won silver in the 800m, just a few weeks after fellow athletes Emily Diamond and Eilidh Doyle had formed half of the Team GB women’s 4x400m relay quartet that claimed Olympic bronze.

Paul Blake, Emily Diamond, Eilidh Doyle, Heather Stanning, Siobhan-Marie O'Connor, Chris Walker-Hebborn and Jazz Carlin. Rio 2016 Olympic & Paralympic medallist celebrations, October 12 2016. PICTURE: Clare Green for Matchtight
Paul Blake, Emily Diamond, Eilidh Doyle, Heather Stanning, Siobhan-Marie O’Connor, Chris Walker-Hebborn and Jazz Carlin at the Rio 2016 Olympic & Paralympic medallist celebrations

It was an outstanding Olympics for members of the British Swimming National Centre who train in the STV’s London 2012 Legacy Pool as Jazz Carlin (2), Siobhan-Marie O’Connor and Chris Walker-Hebborn all won silver medals. Team-mate Andrew Willis, a Chemical Engineering graduate, was just eight-hundredths of a second shy of joining them on the podium in Rio but went on to win a silver medal of his own at the FINA World Short-Course Championships in Canada.

Piers Gilliver won Britain’s first wheelchair fencing medal at a Paralympic Games for 24 years, silver in the epee, and Sports & Exercise Science graduate Nicole Walters guided visually-impaired Melissa Reid to PT5 bronze as para-triathlon made its debut in Rio.

Among the other alumnae to enjoy medal success was rower Heather Stanning, who made history by successfully defending her Olympic women’s pair title with Helen Glover. Both learnt to row at the University with the GB Rowing Team Start programme.

Natural Sciences graduate Alexandra Rickham also won two-person SKUD18 sailing bronze with Niki Birrell for a second successive Paralympic Games.

An inspirational start to the University’s 50th-anniversary year saw HRH Prince Harry visit the STV as it hosted trials for the 2016 Invictus Games. He met wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women, using sport as part of their recovery, who were trialling for the UK team in athletics, archery, wheelchair basketball, road cycling, powerlifting, indoor rowing, wheelchair rugby, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair tennis.

Other notable visitors to the STV’s world-class facilities during 2016 were GB’s Davis Cup-winning tennis captain Leon Smith; England Netball U21s; the Malaysian Paralympic powerlifting team; Team England’s rhythmic gymnastics squad working towards the 2018 Commonwealth Games; and the England Rugby Union squad, who trained there during their successful Six Nations campaign.

Providing the opposition for Eddie Jones’ men during some of the training matches were members of the University’s student rugby club, for whom 2016 proved to be particularly memorable.

The University became one of eight founder members of the BUCS Super Rugby league, designed to raise the profile of university rugby, progress the level of performance to National League standard and establish a pathway to elite and professional rugby.

The Blue and Gold’s positive start to the inaugural season included an unforgettable match at The Rec, the iconic city-centre home of Bath Rugby, as more than 5,000 spectators cheered them to victory over Leeds Beckett on the day the University celebrated its 50th anniversary.

It wasn’t the first time the students had triumphed in front of a big crowd at The Rec – they also won the international Red Bull 7s title for a third successive year in September.

The year ended on another high note as IKON Construction agreed a three-year sponsorship deal with the Super Rugby squad.

IKON is one of a number of West Country firms to forge partnerships with Team Bath during 2016. MJ Church – the Marshfield-based Civil Engineering, Plant, Transport and Waste Management Contractors – is supporting sport at all levels at the University, from grass-roots to elite, and is providing a bursary for nine sporting ambassadors including Rio 2016 medallist Piers Gilliver and judoka Ben Fletcher.

Team Bath Netball – who finished a fine third overall in the 2016 Vitality Netball Superleague – have also been boosted ahead of the new season by a sponsorship deal with engineering service company Sitec Group, while law firm Mogers Drewett has come on board as the Blue and Gold’s education partner.

The University’s ongoing commitment to ensuring its sporting facilities are of the highest standard continued as athletics legend Colin Jackson returned to his former training base to open the extensively-refurbished Team Bath Gym.

Kitted out by Matrix Fitness UK, the gym includes some cutting-edge equipment that cannot be found elsewhere in Europe. As with other facilities in the STV, it is open to students, elite athletes and members of the public alike – all can be found training alongside each other in an inspirational environment.

The University’s indoor and outdoor tennis courts have also been refurbished in the past 12 months. Used by hundreds of people each week, the courts have hosted international tournaments featuring the world’s top wheelchair tennis players and aspiring stars of the future during 2016.

They are also one of the many facilities that will be used when the University welcomes thousands of students from across the country for BUCS Big Wednesday in March 2017 – the action-packed finale to the British Universities & Colleges Sport season, featuring 40 finals across 15 sports.

With Team Bath Netball determined to put up a strong Superleague title challenge and athletes from the British Bobsleigh & Skeleton Association ramping up their preparations for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, 2017 promises to be another sporting year to savour at the University of Bath.

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