Top universities for student athletics

Close up of female athletes starting block position
These universities push the boundaries in track and field events.

Athletics is tremendously popular as a participatory sport at university. Although the universities featured are known for their sports courses, students from all academic disciplines can achieve greatness. At Loughborough University, Sebastian Coe studied economics, Paula Radcliffe studied French, German and economics, and Tanni Grey-Thompson graduated in politics and social administration.

Most of the statistics in this article are from British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS), the governing body for Higher Education (HE) sport in the UK.

University of Bath

The University of Bath has invested a lot of money in its track and field facilities and hosted teams and athletes training for the London 2012 Olympics and the Paralympic Games. It was the first UK university to offer sports scholarships. Modern pentathlete Samantha Murray, who won an Olympic silver medal in 2012, was one recipient. The university has gained fourth position in combined team scores for outdoor athletics (BUCS Championships) in 2014 and 2016.

Rankings within the top five teams, BUCS Outdoor Championships

2016: men’s fifth place, women’s fourth place

2015: men’s fifth place, women’s fourth place

2014: men’s fourth place.

University of Birmingham

Birmingham offers 40 sporting scholarships a year. The university’s recent successes include being team champions in men’s and women’s categories for the 2015 BUCS Cross Country Championships and individual golds for 60m, 800m, 1500m, 5k and 10k. In 2014 and 2016, the university gained third position in combined team scores for outdoor athletics (BUCS Championships).

Rankings within the top five teams, BUCS Outdoor Championships

2016: men’s third place, women’s third place

2015: men’s third place

2014: men’s third place, women’s second place.

Cardiff Metropolitan University

Cardiff Metropolitan owns the National Indoor Athletics Centre, which is Wales’ primary centre for research into high performance in sports. The university does well in men’s javelin, shot put and triple jump as well as men’s racing. In 2014 and 2016, it gained second position in combined team scores for outdoor athletics (BUCS Championships).

Rankings within the top five teams, BUCS Outdoor Championships

2016: men’s second place, women’s second place

2015: men’s second place, women’s fifth place

2014: women’s third place.

University of Loughborough

Loughborough’s reputation is for producing the cream of the UK’s sporting graduates, and its athletics teams are regularly top of BUCS league tables.

Some of the best-known names in championship athletics are Loughborough alumni – 1500m gold-winner Sebastian Coe, long-distance-runner Paula Radcliffe and Paralympian wheelchair-racer Tanni Grey-Thompson. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games, past and present students won 35 medals; at the 2012 Olympics 13 medals were won by 90 athletes with Loughborough heritage. The university has gained first position in combined team scores for outdoor athletics (BUCS Championships) in 2014 and 2016.

Rankings within the top five teams, BUCS Outdoor Championships

2016: men’s first place, women’s first place

2015: men’s first place, women’s first place

2014: men’s first place, women’s first place.

Brunel University

Brunel has fielded strong female teams at the annual BUCS Championships and its graduates have won a small handful of awards at international level in recent years. The university’s men’s and women’s team won the 2016 National Inter-Varsity Challenge beating Bath, Loughborough, Birmingham and Cardiff Metropolitan.

Rankings within the top five teams, BUCS Outdoor Championships

2016: women’s fifth place

2015: men's fourth place, women’s second place

2014: men’s fourth place, women’s fourth place.

Other results

St Mary’s University packs a big punch in the world of athletics. 800m World Indoor Championship bronze medallist Andrew Osagie studied sports science at St Mary's and Mo Farah trained at its Endurance Performing and Coaching Centre.

Past and present students have also been well represented at the European Championships and World University Games. Its male and female teams took second place in the 2015 BUCS race tables and the women’s team made it to seventh position in overall outdoor results in 2014 and third in 2015 (BUCS championships).

Among older universities, the following have had top ten showings in overall tables for BUCS championships: Imperial College London, Durham University, the University of East London, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Leeds, Leeds Beckett University, the University of Nottingham and the University of Sheffield.

Athletes from the University of East London have had some very decent results in BUCS championships. The university had a large role in organising the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. Its men’s team was fourth in the 2016 BUCS Outdoor Championships.

Leeds Beckett was fifth in the combined team rankings for the 2015 BUCS Outdoor Championships.

Other universities may not figure largely in the overall results but perform better in individual events. For example, De Montfort, Oxford Brookes, Chichester, Bangor and Stirling have been strong in the men’s marathon in recent times. There have been top ten BUCS results in the men’s long jump for Aberdeen, Glasgow, Liverpool, Sheffield Hallam, Bedfordshire, and Warwick – and in women’s long jump for Bristol, Newcastle and Swansea.

Interested in other sports as well as athletics? Here are the 2015/2016 University Sport Rankings for BUCS. The figures are points awarded by BUCS.

  1. Loughborough University – 3165
  2. Durham University – 2975
  3. University of Nottingham – 2869.5
  4. University of Edinburgh – 2594.75
  5. University of Birmingham – 2553.5
  6. University of Exeter – 2461.5
  7. Northumbria University – 2392.25
  8. University of Bath – 2276.25

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