The highly anticipated annual BUCS Nationals event once again took centre stage in the impressive English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, and we at BURN FM were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to provide coverage of all the weekend’s events. The University of Birmingham were hopeful of challenging pre-tournament favourites Loughborough for the overall title and assembled a very strong looking team consisting of medal favourites Imran Rahman, Andy Heyes, Catrina Thomas and Chris McAlister.
Birmingham’s weekend got off to a flying start when Silver Sport’s scholar Imran Rahman finished the 60m semi-final with a new personal best of just 6.75 seconds, meaning he qualified as the quickest competitor in the field. Having won gold in last year’s event, Rahman was pre-race favourite and his staggering semi-final performance served to further cement his position as the strongest athlete in the field. In the final, Rahman showed composure and professionalism aplenty and set an even faster PB of 6.70 seconds which was more than enough to secure Birmingham’s first gold medal in the athletics. Rahman’s new time ranks him as the 14th fastest runner overall in the UK this year – an impressive feat from an impressive athlete. Rahman’s performance was just the beginning of what turned out to be a highly lucrative medal haul. Birmingham’s Bronze Sport’s scholar Jay Raradza also qualified for the final of the 60m and finished in 8th place with a time of just 7.01 seconds, just 0.02 of his lifetime best. Raradza’s initial disappointment would soon be forgotten as he helped his fellow Birmingham athletes in the 4x200m relay team on the Sunday, in which he ran the first leg and placed Birmingham in a very strong position to go on to secure gold.
In the gruelling 3000m final, Birmingham’s sole representative and Talent ID Catrina Thomas finished in a very respectable 5th position. In the heats she ran a PB of just 10:08 minutes showing that she was on top of her game. After a very strong start to the race she looked to be in a position to challenge for the top three before unfortunately fading in the last few laps. Thomas was unlucky to come up against a field of such competitive runners, none more so than Jess Judd of Loughborough who stormed her way to a very emphatic victory. In an exclusive interview to our Sports Correspondent Sam Bernard she revealed her delight in smashing her PB once more with a time of 9.58 minutes.
In the men’s version of the event, Andrew Heyes appeared certain to win gold. The Silver scholar claimed a silver medal at the BUCS XC just two weeks prior to the BUCS Nationals and showed no signs of fatigue or wear. Once Heyes stepped up the pace to devastating effect the gold medal never looked in doubt as he continued to open up a gap between himself and his staggering competitors. Heyes’ resounding victory was nothing short of sensational and would have undoubtedly inspired his fellow Birmingham competitors in their upcoming events.
Birmingham’s strong showing at the athletics was once again on display as Birmingham had not one, but two athletes competing in the 400m final after impressive performances from both Mark Williams and Chris McAlister. However, the two of them were unable to push on and challenge for a place on the podium and they finished in 5th and 6th respectively. Chris McAlister will be absolutely delighted with his performance throughout the competition and should be rightly considered as the performance of the day. Before this weekend he had a PB of 49.35 seconds and was ranked 17th amongst his fellow competitors. It would be fair to say that McAlister, himself, probably didn’t even believe he could qualify for the final but after setting consecutive new PBs in the heats and semi-finals (48.37 and then 48.14) he did just that. McAlister, who is a Talent ID at the University of Birmingham, now ranks him joint-12th overall in the UK, which Helen Waters, the Sports Scholarships Officer, rightly describes as “absolutely fantastic”.
Bethan Wakefield narrowly missed out on the opportunity to increase Birmingham’s medal haul in the Women’s 200m Final. Wakefield performed magnificently all day and ran a strong race, putting everything on the line, but she just wasn’t quite fast enough to keep up with the front-runners. For most of the race she sat in a respectable 5th position before an untimely slip from the race leader allowed Wakefield to climb up to 4th place. It was a strong performance as ever from Bethan Wakefield, who must surely be delighted if a little disappointed not to get a medal with her overall performance this weekend.
Birmingham’s long-distance runners claimed yet another gold for Birmingham, this time in the Women’s 1500m Final. Sarah McDonald blew away the rest of the field with a jaw-dropping display of composure, stamina and tactical awareness, timing her attack to perfection. Very much in the style of the emphatic Andrew Heyes, McDonald stretched out a lead that the other competitors never managed to claw back. While McDonald understandably draws all the attention and plaudits from onlookers, we at Burn FM would like to draw attention to Naomi Collier who agonisingly missed out on a medal, finishing in 4th place.
There is no better way to end a great weekend of athletics than with the drama, excitement and tension of the relays. In both the Men’s and Women’s 4x200m Relay Finals, Birmingham looked to have teams more than capable of securing gold. First up were the women, whose team consisted of Ellie Edwards, Bethan Wakefield, Rose Hairs and Lizzie Hubner. After the first three clean change overs they looked as if they were going to secure a bronze medal after sterling performaces from Wakefield and Hairs. Unfortunately, Hubner, who had run her fair share of races this weekend, was sadly outclassed by the other teams’ final runners who looked a little fresher than her, dooming Birmingham to 6th place.
With luck seemingly run out for Birmingham’s women, the men in their race had a nice slice of luck. After strong performances from Jay Raradza and Mark Williams, Birmingham were in the lead with just with just one leg left. Mark Cottan was being caught at a rapid rate from the runner from UEL who was pushing his body to the limit, perhaps too hard. The UEL runner moved over to the right to overtake Cottan around the final bend of the race before pulling up with a devastating hamstring injury, leaving Birmingham with a massive lead, which allowed Mark Cottan to ease up and cross the line to secure Birmingham yet another gold.
What a dramatic way to finish what had been an excellent weekend of athletics, one that proved very fruitful for Birmingham. Birmingham’s impressive performance on the track was enough to secure them second place overall, behind the usual favourites Loughborough, and they accumulated a grand total of four gold medals. Birmingham will be absolutely delighted with the excellent performances that were spread over a wide range of disciplines, from long-distance to short, with both the men’s and the women’s teams getting involved in the medal party.