The BUCS Nationals saw sportspeople from all over Britain gather in the Steel City to compete in the acclaimed tournament, with University of Sheffield athletes excelling at the annual event on 14-16 February.
Swimming, karate, and men’s fencing were just some of the many Sheffield Uni teams and athletes which came away from the tournament with medals in hand, with strong performances also on show from climbing, judo, and track.
On the first day, swimmer Amber Keegan, 22, secured a gold medal, being crowned a BUCS Champion for her first time in the 1,500-metre freestyle long course swimming.
She said: “I’m really pleased with it. The final length was good fun. When I turned it on a bit more on the last 100 and started pulling away I suspected I might win but you never know what’s going to happen.
“I was just focused on controlling what I could with my technique, not worrying about anyone else except to have a good race and see what happened.”
This was Amber’s fifth time competing in the BUCS Nationals but she has only won silvers before, making this moment just that extra special.
“I’d say there isn’t really any competition like BUCS. It’s not quite a “team” event like the English Arena league or German Bundesliga, but it’s also not just an individual event because you’re winning points for your uni,” she added.
“It’s a strange but nice mix of everyone from social swimmers to some of the best in the country. That means you get the team spirit and also good competition.”
It hasn’t been easy for Amber to get to this point in the sport, having to overcome several injuries and mental battles before landing this gold. However, this year she is just trying to focus on enjoying the sport.
She said: “This year I’m grateful to be injury-free, healthy and training consistently again. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.
“I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself goal wise, other than to enjoy it and keep improving. It’s got to be fun for me, or else why am I doing it?”
However, Amber wasn’t the only gold medallist from the University.
Karate fighter Cuba Parris stormed to a third consecutive gold medal in the Men’s U60kg, having previously finished 2018 and 2019 as a BUCS Champion as well.
He said: “It’s a really good feeling to be able to defend my title, as all athletes know sport can be unpredictable, especially fighting, so I’m really happy to have done so.”
Even though he was about to face some of the best fighters from across Britain, Cuba felt confident and unphased ahead of the final fight.
“During the few hours before the final, I like to really unwind and relax with friends, get some food and refuel for later whilst also spending some time watching more of the event.
“I was fairly confident for the final and because it was my final BUCS I wanted to put on a good performance for everyone watching and win in style.
“I got a little nervous just before walking but these nerves are good nerves and mean I’m ready to fight. It’s a feeling I’ve experienced thousands of times before.”
Preparing for the tournament, the final-year biomedical science degree student drew upon his experience from competing in European and World Championships.
He said: “I know my strengths and my weaknesses so this allows me to be very critical when it comes to training to allow me to work on certain areas of my performance.
“Due to the consistent preparation this makes me feel at ease and a lot more confident going into the championships.”
Cuba also highlights how much he enjoys fighting for the Uni and what he hopes to achieve going ahead.
“No competition is similar to BUCS. I really love fighting at BUCS and representing the University of Sheffield.The whole atmosphere is very different to other competitions.”
“After I’ve graduated I’d love to represent England again at another major championship and try and medal at a big international event in the future.”
Along with swimming and karate, men’s epee also came away successful.
Fencer Matt Cooper claimed a silver medal for Sheffield, having made the BUCS Nationals a focus for this season and improving on his result from last year.
With BUCS Nationals including universities from all around the country, it’s not uncommon for friends from different unis to have to face off against each other. This proved to be the case for
Matt, as he came into the final having defeated some of his closest friends along the way, only to be faced with a frustrating final game.
He said: “The semi-final saw me competing against one of my closest friends and we had a great match and it was probably the highlight of the day to win that match.
“The final match was frustrating for me. Beforehand I knew I had the skills to win the match and with how I had been fencing all day I knew I could take the win if I worked hard.
“I played the match tactically wrong and pressed too hard too soon letting my opponent get an early lead which he defended well all match.”
Despite a difficult final game, Matt still aims highly with his fencing ambitions.
“I am taking my fencing seriously and am trying to make a name internationally, it is really difficult to break into the international scene especially being from a country with not much funding for its athletes.
”I have been competing internationally for Great Britain for four to five years now progressing through Cadets, Juniors and now Seniors.
“I aim to continue competing internationally after university with my sights set on the Olympics.”