Richard Evans, BULSCA alumni and judge has written the following competition report detailing the events of the BULSCA 2018 Student Championships.
The Championships have always made for the biggest weekend in the BULSCA calendar. At no other time in the year could one find a larger field of competitors and supporters, and at no other time in the year is it a bigger honour to be able to say “I am proud to be a part of this community.”
I’m Richard Evans, and I was a representative of Southampton University Lifesaving Club from 2013-17. I first discovered lifesaving shortly after joining the university, but I regret that I didn’t immediately immerse myself fully in the shenanigans of lifesaving (because I was too busy trying to win a place on a University Challenge team). Champs 2013 was the first competition that I attended, and my eyes were duly opened to the awesomeness of these events. I’ve attended Champs (and almost every other BULSCA competition) ever since then. Champs 2015 was my light at the end of the tunnel during a particularly dark six-month period, and Champs 2017 was my official swansong as a BULSCA competitor – it goes without saying that many of my best lifesaving memories have come from this two-day event. So I duly looked forward to Champs 2018 with great anticipation, and that great anticipation was duly rewarded.
After locking up all our belongings in the University of Bath’s brand new lockers, the competitors, volunteers and officials were briefed by the head referee, and then it was a case of “baby, let the games begin.” We were all ready for it. So was the University of Bath, which – owing to its recent refurbishment – has not hosted a Champs weekend since 2014. The glorious task of launching the games fell to the volunteers who were installing the Line Throw crossline – and also to the Line Throw competitors. In the Women’s 4x10m Relay, Birmingham narrowly defeated four tightly-packed opposing teams (Warwick, Loughborough, Sheffield and Bristol) to take the first gold of the weekend, while Bristol’s men broke the first record of the weekend. Bristol’s Adam Ridsdale did the double a few minutes later, when he also broke the individual record for the 12.5m Line Throw. With Sophie Priddis winning the Women’s 12.5m event, Bristol had thrown down the gauntlet already.
The Individual and Team Obstacle Relays were next up. As my name is Richard, and the Obstacle Relays always feature a series of gates in water, it’s become an unofficial rule that I have to make a Watergate reference every time I mention this event. Last weekend’s races were scandal-free, and Loughborough’s James Blaby broke his first record in the process (James would later go on to break three more records before the Saturday order of play was over); his compatriot Jess Bunn also took gold at this time.
As the gates were removed from the pool, the manikins were quick to put in an appearance for the next few events. The “manikin line-up by the side of the pool” had provided an unmissable photo opportunity earlier in the morning, as it always does, and when I saw all the manikins lying in one place at the bottom of the pool waiting to be moved into the lanes, I briefly wondered if Taylor Swift had quietly come along and filmed a sub-aqua remake of her Look What You Made Me Do music video. Alas, she hadn’t. June 22, perhaps? I digress. Huge congratulations to Sheffield’s Jayne Stalion, who, in swimming the 100m Manikin Carry with Fins, succeeded in breaking a university record that has stood since 2003!
And then along came the infamous Rescue Medley, which is probably the closest we’ll ever get to a literal interpretation of the lyric “When I was drowning, that’s when I could finally breathe” (from Clean). The top spoils went to Lea Donovan and James Blaby, both of whom broke the records to put Loughborough in the books once more.
The Pool Lifesaver Relay was next in line, making its first appearance at a BULSCA event. It’s a shame that I didn’t get to give this a go while I was a Southampton competitor, because it was enormous fun to watch and judge it! (On the other side of the coin, as I mentioned to a few people last weekend, I don’t really miss standing on the blocks under starter’s orders – for me, standing on stage in front of hundreds of people is less scary than standing on the blocks! You could say that this makes all of you that little bit more fearless than me.) The inaugural BULSCA Pool Lifesaver Record went to Loughborough (James Blaby, Sam Kirkland, Libby Scammell and Lea Donovan), with Sheffield taking silver and Birmingham bronze. That’s the most alliterative set of medal winning teams that we’ll ever get at a BULSCA event, unless we welcome a team from Glasgow in future years.
After this, there were only eight events left, and two of these were the ultimate lifesaving battle. Lifesaving’s equivalent of the Olympic 100m Final, or of the Super-G in Olympic Skiing, or (depending on how you look at it) of the Olympic Marathon. If this lifesaving event were an Oscar-nominated film, it would sweep the board and win everything. If this lifesaving event were a concert, I’d go there instead of to Taylor’s Reputation Tour (not really – no offence, lifesavers). This. Was. The 200m Super Lifesaver. Serious Lifesavin’ – no G. It was spectacular. Jayne Stalion and James Blaby took the golds. (This overblown paragraph is largely inspired by Radio 2 DJ Steve Wright’s fantastically overblown introduction to his Friday afternoon show Serious Jockin’, which is a highlight of my week every week. Check it out!)
So that was all the swimming for Saturday. Our collective reward was to be summoned to Bath’s Lime Tree eatery for some very hot, and very filling, chilli meals. Many thanks to the Lime Tree for hosting us for the evening. While we were there, BULSCA Chair (and one-time BBC Radio Bristol interviewee) Michael Kirkham said a few well-deserved thank-yous, and by about 8:40pm, we were all on the move towards our accommodation in Keynsham. Some of us visited the local Sainsbury’s to buy some breakfasts and Isolation snacks, but all of us had turned in for the night before long – thus ensuring that there would be no repeat of what happened at about 4:00am on the Sunday morning of Champs 2014, when a team wandered into the accommodation venue while loudly blasting Pitbull/Ke$ha’s infamous song Timber!
Sunday morning saw us “abandoning camp” and returning to Bath. The competitors were isolated in double quick time, the judges were quarantined in their SERC areas, the actors got into character, and the runners took their places. In the case of the dry SERC (for which I was a judge), we were telling the story of a very faulty pack-up at a very faulty construction site, complete with train track and on-site safety video. It all made for a thrilling follow-up to 2013’s military training mishaps, 2014’s drowned cars, 2015’s cold buggy/bike accidents, 2016’s car crash, and 2017’s alarming gas leak. Birmingham A won the SERC, closely followed by Loughborough A and Loughborough B; the Overall Judge’s elements were won by Warwick B, followed by Loughborough C and Birmingham D; the phone call marks were won by Bristol B, followed by Loughborough A and Birmingham A; the CPR and associated bystander marks were won by Sheffield A, followed by Loughborough A and Loughborough B; while the other elements were won by Nottingham A, Swansea B, Southampton A and Southampton B (jointly), and also Loughborough B.
In the wet SERC, featuring a giant life raft (an erstwhile BULSCA staple!), Loughborough A took the overall gold, with Loughborough C in silver and Birmingham A in bronze. Loughborough A also topped the leaderboard in 4 other elements, including the Overall Judge’s points, while Loughborough B won the asthmatic / snorkeller points, and the silver and bronze medallists dominated the remaining elements of the SERC.
After lunch, the Sunday Rope Throw and Swim-Tow relays were carried out, and these made for a suitably swift, thrilling end to the points-scoring proceedings for the weekend. Bristol A, Loughborough B and Sheffield A took gold, silver and bronze respectively in the Rope Throw, while the Swim-Tow was a Loughborough 1-2-3. Specifically, it was an A-C-B. It thus came to pass that the final results of Champs 2018 had suddenly been decided, and that only the people in the scoring box had any access to these final results for the time being!
It wasn’t until midway through the results ceremony that the rest of us got access to the final results. Councillor Bob Goodman, of Bath and North East Somerset Council, who has been a strong supporter of our drowning prevention efforts in recent times, presented the certificates and medals to all the victors, but the honour of announcing the identities of the victors went to Champs Coordinator Helen Morris. Once she had announced that Loughborough had won Saturday overall, and that Loughborough C had taken bronze and Birmingham A silver for Sunday, the penny dropped – and it became clear that Loughborough, for the fourth consecutive year, had won the Champs weekend. Huge congratulations to them, and to all the other competing squads, including silver-medallists Birmingham, bronze-medallists Sheffield, and also Keynsham – who received a greatly-deserved honorary mention in Helen’s results ceremony speech. Sunday’s head referee, Chris Harper, was also quick to draw attention to Keynsham’s efforts, shortly after he and the SERC setters had given the teams a general debrief from their incidents.
We all gathered for the symbolic BULSCA Photoshoot before parting ways. I took my Champs mug, which had been given out by the BULSCA Committee to all the judges, as I joined Southampton in our final walk back to Car Park A (not the mysterious Car Park G, which is where no competitors had been allowed to park). There ended a terrific weekend that had been more than worth the long wait. Thank you to all of you for making it so terrific – especially Helen and the rest of the Committee.
I’ll see you in Birmingham next month. Until then, I’ll be driving my getaway car to Car Park G and filming that sub-aqua remake of Look What You Made Me Do, but – spoiler alert – that’s nothing to do with why Car Park G was out of bounds during Champs.