IT professionals converge on Wrexham to give Computastars a rousing send-off

IT professionals from across Europe bade a fond farewell to Computastars at the Queensway international athletics stadium in...

IT professionals from across Europe bade a fond farewell to Computastars at the Queensway international athletics stadium in Wrexham last month.

After 26 highly successful years, Computastars, which is a cross between It's a Knockout and 1970s TV favourite Superstars, has become a key date in the IT industry's calendar. Every year IT professionals have left their PCs and laptops to compete in an eclectic mix of events, ranging from scooter racing and tyre pulling to the dreaded finale, the lung-busting steeplechase.

The Wrexham event started sedately enough, with nearly 40 teams nervously lining up in bright sunshine for the curtain-raiser, the innocently-titled "ball catching and throwing". Of course, with Computastars supremo Gordon Cairns dreaming up the events, this was unlikely to be a simple game of catch. Sure enough, competitors soon found themselves facing a rapid succession of long-range deliveries from a machine firing tennis balls.

This, however, was just the warm-up, and the next event soon separated the men from the boys. Listed in the event programme as tyre pulling, teams faced the hernia-inducing prospect of dragging a small van up a slope at the edge of the stadium. Never one to make things easy for the competitors, Cairns had considerately weighed the back of the van down with containers.

Chris "Man Mountain" Bernard of the Telewest Broadband team was left nursing a sore back after his tussle with the vehicle. "They described this in a very abstract way as tyre pulling, but it is a truck with four wheels!" he said. The strapping computer operations manager admitted that he was only supposed to be attending the event in his capacity as "motivational coach" but had ended up competing.

A Herculean effort from the Oracle ladies' team, as they dragged the van up the hill, drew massive cheers from the crowd. The all-action Oracle team, like many of the companies involved in Computastars, used the day as an opportunity to build team spirit. Jane Waterhouse, their highly vocal ladies' captain, summed up the atmosphere. "It is great fun - it has team spirit and good camaraderie," she said.

Telewest Broadband also used Computastars to bring its employees together for a fun day out. Computastars veteran and IT administrator Mina Mistry explained, "We have been coming here for the past three years, it is great for team building - we have a lot of departments scattered from Edinburgh to Plymouth and it brings them all together."

Later in the afternoon, while the teams were frantically stepping and jumping over a low bar, Cairns was mysteriously unloading what appeared to be stretchers and strips of velcro from the back of his much-travelled white van. "Have you seen this one before?" he enquired, cheerily. "It is quite perverse." He wasn't joking.

The next event involved teams strapping their captains to the stretchers and completing a set of relays. This may sound straightforward but, as ever, there was a catch: the captain had to be carried upside down - hence the need for the velcro.

Not surprisingly, a number of the IT industry's finest found themselves dropped unceremoniously by their team-mates in the ensuing chaos, much to the amusement of the watching spectators.

No Computastars event would be complete without the dreaded finale, a steeplechase that has long been the source of sleepless nights in IT departments around the country. In keeping with tradition, the Wrexham water jump claimed a number of victims, including one unfortunate runner who completely mistimed his leap and somersaulted head-first into the murky depths.

Over the years Computastars has developed into a truly international event, managing to attract high-calibre teams from mainland Europe as well as the UK. The Wrexham event was no different, with eventual ladies' champions Peoplesoft Amsterdam and male veterans Nationale Nederlanden both making the journey across the North Sea to compete.

Nationale Nederlanden programmer Henny Ros summed up the unique challenge of Computastars. He said, "The most difficult part is looking at the silly games seriously and not making stupid mistakes." Obviously, his team's meticulous approach paid off, with Nationale Nederlanden eventually clinching the veterans' title.

The men's honours went to the team from London Clearing House, who put in an impressive performance to see off a strong challenge from Royal London.

But the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for Cairns and his Computastars team, who have worked so hard to make the event a success during the past 26 years. As ever, Computastars lived up to its latin motto, "ludi sine gaudio nuni non sunt" (sport without fun is not sport).

For full results click here

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