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Liz's Olympic story

BU graduate Liz Birchall understands the importance of focus and passion when it comes to a career. As Head of Communications for UK Athletics and the London 2017 World Championships, she works with uber-motivated, passionate, focused athletes at the very top of their profession.

This summer she has been in Rio for the 2016 Olympics supporting TeamGB. Rio will be Liz’s third Olympics, having previously worked at Beijing 2008 and London 2012. This year she’ll be centre stage for athletics at Rio, managing a wide range of communication issues, including working to showcase the achievements of Team GB across all media channels. 

Originally from Nottingham, Liz moved to Bournemouth to study for a BA in Multimedia Journalism at BU, graduating in 1999. Like the athletes Liz works with, she likes to stay active and during her time at BU undertook a number of work experience placements with the Nottingham Evening Post, BBC East Midlands Today, and Radio Nottingham Sport.  She also pursued her sporting activities, through BU’s Women’s Football team and working part-time at Sport BU.

Moving half way down the country for university was a big step for Liz, but it was the right decision. She said: “The experience of moving away was also beneficial and looking back was a real strength in my development alongside the quality of the course.”

After graduation from BU Liz followed her passion for sport working as a freelance journalist as well as in television production. However, an opportunity at Athletics Weekly in Peterborough gave her a chance to do some writing alongside other general duties. From this first job she identified the communication role within UK Athletics as an area she would love to go into and, when an opportunity arose in the organisation, she seized that chance.

Liz says the industry accreditation on her BU course was vital as a door opener in her career. She said: “My degree was hugely important to my current role and the multimedia aspect in particular. Bournemouth was hugely attractive as a course because it was accredited with all the main training councils – the National Training Council for Journalists (NCTJ), Broadcast Training Council (BTC) and Periodicals Training Council (PTC).”

She went on to explain: “This meant I was coming out of university with qualifications recognised across the industry. I still see degrees on CVs that don’t strike me as strongly as the Bournemouth one and the links it has to the industry. As a media officer with the experience of working freelance in the industry there is a clear advantage in having studied on a course that is accredited for journalism.”

In her current role Liz oversees all parts of communication of UK Athletics – the governing body for sport in the UK.  It includes all aspects of communication from promoting the performance of Team GB, through governance, health and safety, to the events UK Athletics hosts like the Olympic trails and Anniversary Games.

Liz travels with the team to manage all aspects of communication on all senior Team GB trips to events like the Olympics and European Championships, which requires an ability to work on the road and adapt to a wide range of countries in what is a truly global sport.

With a wealth of experience in sports communications and journalism, Liz has sound advice for aspiring communications professional. She said: “The CVs that impress me most are those with relevant work experience alongside a course that has recognised accreditation. I think building up a number of key contacts in a focussed way, not necessarily volume but quality, is a good idea. Plus a good handshake – a limp handshake on arrival is a very poor way to introduce yourself!”

She went on to say: “A Bournemouth University degree stands out for me, as people who go to BU strike me as going for a focussed reason, choosing courses that can really help them achieve their career choices.”

In the next few years Liz will be putting her focus and determination to the test as she’ll be heading up the communications for the 2017 World Championships and World ParaAthletics Championships in London. This aspect of her work will take on increasing importance in the year ahead as London 2017 is also the first time that the IAAF World Championships and ParaAthletics Championships will be held in the same summer, in the same city.