How do we encourage and enable people of all ages and abilities to enjoy healthier and active lifestyles? And how do we get more gold medals at the Olympics? Emma Clegg discovers how the University of Bath has the answers…­­

Team GB came back with five medals from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. It’s our best Winter Olympics medal crop yet. Three of them were from skeleton athletes who train at the University of Bath: bronze for Dom Parsons, bronze for Laura Deas and gold for Lizzy Yarnold. So three-fifths of those with Team GB medals have been trained and supported by one of our universities. Impressive, huh?

What’s more, if you look below the medal radar, there are other big achievements from Team GB athletes with a University of Bath connection. Mica McNeill and Mica Moore finished eighth in their bobsleigh event, while Brad Halland and Joel Fearon were 12th in the two-man bobsleigh. Jerry Rice finished 10th overall in skeleton, and sports performance graduate Lloyd Wallace, who is supported by a Team Bath service support grant, was 20th in his Olympic debut in aerial skiing, a remarkable achievement after suffering a severe head injury in training just six months before. In the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games, University of Bath graduate Kelly Gallagher came eighth in the visually-impaired alpine skiing Super G.

September saw the University of Bath named as the Sports University of the Year in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide. So what exactly is the magic that the university is weaving? And how does it achieve clear excellence in ice-track events when Bath (which can, it’s true, get darn cold), doesn’t normally boast sub-zero temperatures?Mica Moore and Mica McNeill doing the starting run before mounting their bobsleigh

Well, it all comes down to teamwork. Team Bath, in fact, and their £30-million sports training village (STV). The village accommodates more than 50 sports – among them athletics, bobsleigh, modern pentathlon, skeleton and swimming – and regularly hosts major international competitions, as well as being a world-class multi-sport training environment. There’s an Olympic-sized swimming pool, indoor and outdoor athletics tracks, 16 tennis courts, a state-of-the-art gym and a leading physio and sport science centre, which as a whole receives around 1.6 million visits every year.

The facilities at the STV have helped Bath become an internationally renowned centre of sporting excellence. Championship achievements over the past two decades include those of former international rugby player Steve Borthwick; the winner of the first-ever gold medal for Britain on snow, Kelly Gallagher MBE; and Olympic gold medallist for coxless pair rowing Heather Stanning MBE. International bodies to have staged camps at the training village in recent years include the likes of Australia Rugby, FA Premier League, the Chinese swimming squad and the British Paralympic Association.

The training village is also a major competition venue, with such diverse events as the Invictus Games GB Trials, the Bath International Indoor Wheelchair Tennis Tournament and the Strength In Depth (club fitness competition) European Finals. It has also been selected to host the 2019 Modern Pentathlon European Championships, a qualifying event for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Piers Gilliver, wheelchair fencer and silver medallist at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, has experienced it as a competition venue: ”In the two weeks before the games we held our wheelchair fencing holding camp here as it was felt that this was the best location where I could be sure of accessing all of the training and support facilities that I needed in the final run-up to the games. It worked very well!”

There’s no sitting back on heels glorying in success, either. Investment in the facilities continues – a new £3.5million extension to the Team Bath gym and fitness centre is being built as you read this. Scheduled to open in September this year, the two-floor extension will offer a significant increase in cardio and strength equipment together with a group exercise studio with sprung floor, functional training areas and an indoor cycling studio.

Stephen Baddeley, director of sport at Team Bath and a former Commonwealth Games badminton champion, comments, “Our gym is heavily utilised and we have had to limit community memberships for some three years now, so we will be significantly adding to our gym and fitness capacity from the autumn when the new gym and fitness centre will open.”

Swimmer Anna Hopkin, the 2017 British 50m freestyle champion, explains how much difference the existing training and gym facilities have made to her: “The coaching and training at the university was very specific to my strengths. At Bath there is a sprint squad meaning all of my training is tailored to my events. The excellent gym facilities and guidance in the gym was also a huge benefit to my training.”

What about plans for future investment? Stephen Baddeley explains the priorities: “The area of clear need is to increase our outdoor, all-weather provision through adding floodlit, 3G pitches to our two existing hockey pitches.”

Team Bath’s achievements in skeleton and bobsleigh come from the elite training facilities, and specifically from the presence of the only push-start track in the UK. The 140-metre track, including a sophisticated braking mechanism to maximise training safety and comfort, enables bobsleigh and skeleton athletes to hone their starts away from the ice. In these events where finishing positions are decided within fractions of a second, the starting speed is critical. In these two ice-track events athletes need to push the sled/bobsleigh from a standing start as fast as possible over 20–30 metres for skeleton and 65 metres for bobsleigh before leaping on board.

While this is not the complete picture – travelling to the nearest ice track in Königssee, Germany for full-track training is essential – it gives elite ice-track athletes the facilities they need to keep pushing (ahem) their potential.

Laura Deas, skeleton bronze medallist at Pyeongchang, explains, “The push-start track at the STV is the only one of its kind in the UK and is vital for keeping our training as close to on-ice practice as we can get. The GB team are renowned on the international circuit for fast pushes and this facility enables us to maintain that standard.”

“You can see four to five year olds taking their first tennis lessons while senior players practise for tournaments like Wimbledon on an adjoining court.”

The University of Bath offers help to student-athletes to excel in both their sporting and academic careers. “We are most active in supporting athletes as they strive to make the demanding transition from top junior performers to senior internationals,” says Stephen Baddeley.

“In the case of high-performing student athletes, we are also able to offer financial scholarships thanks to the generosity of our alumni.” More than 50 students benefit from financial assistance towards training and competition, as well as lifestyle support to ensure they successfully manage the demands of their dual careers. Tennis athlete Emma Hurst received the Trendell Sports Scholarship and TASS support, which allows her to train full-time and receive individual support on and off the tennis court. “The main struggle I faced was combining the degree with the demands of my training schedule. With the support I was given from TASS and my subject tutor, I was able to learn to balance these effectively for the majority of my course.”

Rugby player Will Britton, captain of the University of Bath men’s 1st XV in the national BUCS Super Rugby league, was also awarded a scholarship: “I was given a rugby service scholarship during my time at the university, providing me with funding for services from the STV. This has helped me develop as a rugby player and athlete in general. It has been adapted throughout the years as I have gone along the university pathway. For example, last year it focussed on nutrition and physio services, and this year it has been predominantly sports psychology focussed.”

The STV also offers training to provide people with the skills to pursue careers in sport, with Team Bath offering regular courses in such areas as fitness instructing, sports massage and lifeguard training, as well as first aid at work.Children’s badminton session with Team Bath Tribe

Part of the onsite facilities, supporting both Olympians and keen amateurs, is a physio and sport science centre with an applied sport science laboratory. There is some impressive technology here. The VO2 Ma and Lactate Transition exercise test is used for athletes participating in endurance and team sports. The test – which can be be completed running, biking, rowing or swimming – is carried out on laboratory grade treadmills or cycle ergometers and measures the athlete’s maximum oxygen uptake and their blood lactate and heart rate profile. This is then used to give the athlete specific training guidelines to prescribe their ideal paces, exercise intensities and heart rates so they get maximum benefit from their sessions.

Jo Muir, pentathlete and sports performance graduate, explains the impact the sports science centre has had on her training: “The overall package of training with the sport science services have been a huge help to me. I don’t think I could have managed to stay in such good shape or get back from niggles and injuries if I didn’t have this support. Having access to a lifestyle adviser and a psychologist during my time studying helped me deal with stress and allowed me to get the best from my training and studying. Physiotherapy, strength and conditioning, nutrition and video analysis support help me on a daily basis to enhance my training and performance.”

The training facilities here are elite, yes, encouraging a new generation of athletes in a variety of sports, but they are shared with the community, so the public get to train alongside Olympic, paralympic and world medallists. Nobody is excluded. You can see four to five year olds taking their first tennis lessons while senior players practise for tournaments like Wimbledon on an adjoining court. There are pensioners taking advantage of the daily SwimFit sessions in the London 2012 Legacy Pool while the British swimming squad train alongside them, and people working out in the gym while the GB Rowing Team Start squad do their gruelling ergo exercises.

Stephen Baddeley explains the level of community engagement: “We have 10,155 community members and more use the facilities on a pay-and-play basis. From 4pm until early evening we are overrun with excited primary school children and in the evening and at weekends our community clubs provide sessions for teenagers and adults.”

The Team Bath Tribe programme helps more than 5,000 children get active in a variety of different sports. Coaching is offered in more than 40 schools in the area. Secondary school pupils also visit for practical lab-based and educational sessions with the sport science team, aimed at groups studying physical education, sport studies or GCSEs.

How is this all funded? The bulk of the revenue, just under £5 million per year, is raised through commercial activities – facility hire, memberships, physio and sport science services, sponsorships and commercial partnerships. The university itself provides considerable funding, focused on enhancing the student experience and maintaining and refurbishing the building. They have also received significant capital funding from UK Sport and Sport England.

On top of this, university alumni and businesses fund the sporting scholarships. Businesses who support the Team Bath brand include Carter Jonas, the new Tribe sponsor; Investigo which backs the rugby and netball teams; and the Iesis Group which sponsored a student rugby match at Bath Rugby’s recreation ground, attracting a crowd of nearly 5,000. The family of commercial partners also includes MJ Church, Sitec, Mogers Drewett and IKON Construction.

  “After Pyeongchang, I walked into the STV and there was a big ‘congratulations’ banner with my face on it which greeted me!”

It’s clear that Team Bath pitch their weight at all levels, from supporting young children as they learn to swim to honing the training of high-achieving Olympic hopefuls. Ultimately, their approach uses a bottom-up approach. Take part in sport and exercise, see others doing the same, be inspired by the best and develop sporting ambitions for the future. And Team Bath are not just a team in name. As Laura Deas recalls, “After Pyeongchang, I walked into the STV and there was a big ‘congratulations’ banner with my face on it which greeted me! I couldn’t wait to see everyone in the building who played a part in getting me to the Olympics healthy and happy.”

Sports Training Village, University of Bath, Claverton Down Road, Combe Down, Bath BA2 7AY, tel: 01225 386339; teambath.com


Facts & Figures

• The university is one of only six UK Sport accredited elite training centres

• The sports training village (STV) can accommodate more than 50 sports and regularly hosts major international competitions

• There are more than 250 elite athletes on site

• The university provides more than 50 sporting scholarships to student-athletes

• Team Bath Tribe, the youth participation programme, has more than 250,000 interactions each year with children in sport

• There are 43 community sports clubs based out of the STV, with an average of 4,262 club members active every week

• The youngest regular customer at the sports training village is four months old and the eldest is 85