By Harvey Palmer | Sport Editor
As COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease across Wales and interest in athletics rises on the back of a successful summer at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Gair Rhydd spoke to Maddie Elliott, President of the Cardiff University Athletics Club (CUAC); James Meiklejohn, Treasurer of the Cardiff University Athletics Club; and James Heneghan, long-term club member and 1500m Welsh Champion about their plans for the year.
The impact of COVID-19 on CUAC last year
Following on from the last year where most sporting activities were put on hold, we asked what students can expect to see from the club over the next few months.
The club acknowledged that the outbreak of COVID-19 understandably created a number of challenges for participation in sport, mainly culminating in a reduced engagement with team-based sports and in-person competitions as large-scale activities were put on pause.
Maddie Elliott, President of CUAC explained that that due to “rules changing all the time” it meant “freshers last year struggled to get involved” in the club and, as a result, some of the progress athletes had previously made was set back. Despite this lack of opportunity for newcomers to get involved with sport, Elliott maintained that many professional-level athletes were still able to train and progress during the pandemic.
As for the successes that the club has already seen over the past few months, all the interviewees were keen to praise last year’s committee for the way they persevered through difficult changes and still managed to achieve strong levels of success throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
This success included Jake Heyward, a Cardiff alumnus who graduated in 2021, qualifying for the Olympic 1500m final with a personal best and Welsh record time and placing 9th.
On top of that brilliant result, two runners, James Heneghan and John Howorth, ran sub-4 minute miles and Beth Moule, the Athletics Union’s Sportswoman of the year, became Welsh javelin champion.
CUAC’s plans for the upcoming academic year
This year, however, the team said that they are aiming to “cater for every ability” with James Heneghan suggesting that the Athletics Club would be focusing on reaching out to students who may have previously missed out. “Second year students,” he added, “are now asking to get involved” with athletics and have been sharing their interest via the club’s various social media channels. This will, they hope, increase participation in sport after a difficult year.
With this increased participation and focus on bringing in-person activities back, Gair Rhydd asked what students can expect to see from CUAC this year, and how exactly they were going to “push” members “to the next level” – Evidently something that all the committee were looking to improve, with their eyes firmly set on the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, as well as Welsh Nationals, BUCS events and Welsh Varsity, among others.
One way in which they are focusing on improving their results is through new coaching ideologies. The first of these was put forward by James Meiklejohn, who informed us that this year they were looking at “adding more to endurance coaching.”
They aim to do this by “partnering with James Thie, one of the UK’s top endurance coaches.” Thie is a Welsh middle-distance runner, who competed in World Indoor and Outdoor Championships, finishing 4th in the 2004 Indoor Championships.
When asked about whether they would be doing more for field events, James Heneghan stated that he understood that “other sides of athletics” such as these events were “often ignored”, and that they were “keen to get more people involved in field events” as there are “not a lot of grassroots opportunities” in these sports.
With Beth Moule succeeding in the javelin last year, and being Athletics Union Sportswoman of the Year, it is clear this is already a strong area for the club, but there appears there is still more they want to do.
CUAC’s plans to promote a diverse participation in sport
At a time when promoting positive sporting environment is more important than ever before, Gair Rhydd asked what steps CUAC would be taking to make itself an inclusive and diverse club.
One of their focuses, the team asserted, is to “get as many people involved as possible” involved in their activities, especially those from groups who are not always featured in mainstream sport.
The issue of involvement for differently abled athletes was also discussed, particularly on the back of such a strong showing at the Paralympics from Team GB.
Maddie Elliott stressed that this, firstly, was already a strong area, and mentioned Nils Rehm, a Cardiff student who is now ranked 1st in the UK for the T46 200m. She echoed the idea, as with field events, that often these sports are “ignored” and that they have facilities in place for para-athletes to get heavily involved both casually and competitively. She also stated that they have a “new sprint coach” who “does Paralympic and wheelchair training too”, and therefore this is an area of athletics in which they are strengthening and developing.
What does this year represents for CUAC and sport in general?
Reflecting back on the last year, Maddie Elliott concluded by saying that this year would be a better opportunity for people to get involved with sport and, hopefully, will be a positive year for the club overall.