Sporting Chances

Donors to the University’s sporting scholarships are making a real difference to the prospects of elite athletes, as the Glasgow Commonwealth Games proved.

 Sarah Adlington, Gold medallist for judo at Glasgow 2014 and Conor Bond, President of the Edinburgh University Sports Union
Sarah Adlington, Gold medallist for judo at Glasgow 2014 and Conor Bond, President of the Edinburgh University Sports Union

Sarah Adlington’s gold medal for judo at Glasgow 2014 was doubly sweet. She had undergone shoulder surgery in March and was by no means certain to compete, let alone triumph.

“The road to the Games was pretty rocky,” says the second-year student, who is taking a BSc in Sport and Recreation Management. “When we first looked at the dates we always knew it would be tight as there are often dips in recovery from injury.

“Fortunately I was ready in time. The main thing was to get back fighting fit, make the team selection and then do as much preparation as I could to make sure I was the best I could be on that day, even though I wasn’t going to be at my personal best. To come away with a gold medal at the end of that was absolutely amazing.”

Sarah’s next huge target is the Rio Olympics in 2016, with a myriad of other competitions before then, in the UK and all over the world.

In the face of such challenges, the financial support that the University can offer its most promising sportsmen and sportswomen is even more welcome.

Last semester Sarah, who was born in Shrewsbury but has lived in Scotland for almost 10 years, received an Eric Liddell High Performance Scholarship, named after the University’s first Olympic hero, the legendary runner.

Liddell, whose story features in the film Chariots of Fire, won gold in the 400m and bronze in the 200m at the Paris Games in 1924 while studying pure science. He famously refused to race in his favourite event, the 100m, on religious grounds as it was held on a Sunday.

Two of the University’s most distinguished Olympians, the cyclist Sir Chris Hoy and the rower Dr Katherine Grainger, are among those who have raised funds for the Eric Liddell Scholarships since they were set up two years ago.

Sarah is also on the University’s flagship support scheme, the Individual Performance Programme (IPP). This is offered on a one-year renewable basis and is open to any University student who is competing at junior international standard or above.

It has taken a while for her Commonwealth gold to sink in. “I realised the other day that it was something that was never going to go away whatever I did in my life, university wise or sporting wise – I’m always going to be a Commonwealth champion.

Sarah Adlington
Commonwealth Games Gold Medalist

IPP exploits the University’s top class training and competition facilities, pioneering sports conditioning and sports medicine expertise, commitment to performance sport development and close links to Scotland’s elite sport network. It offers everything from gym membership at the exceptional Pleasance sports complex to nutrition advice, sports psychology consultancy, flexible study options, promotional opportunities and cash assistance for sports related costs.

“Obviously no athlete does their amateur sport for money but any financial support you can get takes a little pressure off living expenses, which means you can concentrate that bit more on what you’re trying to achieve in your study and in your sport,” Adlingon says.

As if to underline this, her name is gilded onto the wooden placard in the Sports Hall of Fame at the University’s Centre for Sports and Exercise on the Pleasance, where Sarah does some of her training.

Two other current University students from the Glasgow Games are up there – Andy Burns, a bronze, also for judo, and Corrie Scott, who won a swimming bronze.

Conor Bond, president of the University’s Sports Union, says such awards are crucial. “They mean there is no financial barrier to someone competing in their sport internationally or in the UK because they significantly reduce living costs. Programmes like IPP also do a whole lot more as well, in terms of training and expertise.”

However, while elite sport at the University is clearly flourishing – in all, 17 current students made it to the Glasgow Games, with many alumni also present as competitors and coaches – plenty of activity is going on, and enjoyment being had, at lower levels as well.

Conor says a policy of “something for everyone” is driving up student involvement to unprecedented numbers across the 64 clubs. These range from athletics and archery to boxing, cheerleading, cycling, skydiving, motorsports, underwater hockey, windsurfing, wakeboarding, weightlifting and dozens more.

“Participation is going through the roof. We had about 6,000 members in 2012/13 and that’s now up above 7,000. Next year we are looking to push 8,000. It’s fantastic to see so many more students getting involved in sport and being physically active,” he says.

“We pride ourselves on being able to cater for everyone most of the time, whether that’s an international athlete or someone who just wants to come along and try something new. Sometimes we see a strain on facilities and resources but on the whole we cope.”

Various other sports scholarships are also on offer, including the Katherine Grainger Scholarship, worth £1,250 a year to current students for the duration of their study, the Stockton Family Scholarship and the Macaskill Family Scholarship.

Katherine Grainger was once one of those who tried something new. She took up rowing at the University and went on to win one Olympic gold, three silvers and six world championships, becoming the most successful female British rower to date.

For Sarah, the two sides of sport at the University are dovetailing well.

“A lot of what I’m learning this year about sports sponsorship, sports marketing and events management relates directly to what I see in competition around the world. I’ve been to a vast array of events from world championships to the Commonwealth Games and that will help me in my studies this semester and hopefully into the next one.”

For now, however, competition remains the priority. “If Rio had come and gone and I hadn’t done everything I could to get there and win a medal then I’d only be disappointed in myself. It’s encouraging to realise that the University’s supporters are helping create the conditions for success.”