ITers in grass burn trauma while wriggling in Belgium

Martin Couzins reports on the action from International Computastars in Ostend

Martin Couzins reports on the action from International Computastars in Ostend

This year's International Computastars in Belgium was quite an event. Before they even got to the Josef Verhelle Stadium in Ostend, teams from the UK had to run the gauntlet of the fuel crisis. But transport problems did not spoil the turnout as 189 competitors representing 40 teams made the trip from the UK and The Netherlands.

As with all Computastars finals, the day saw teams of IT professionals battle it out over seven sporting events cunningly devised by organiser Gordon Cairns and kept secret until the day of the tournament.

Cairns did not disappoint. All the new events were based on the wacky races and tests of endurance that were seen in the domestic heat. The only event to remain unchanged was the last one - the steeplechase. Asked earlier if he would include it Cairns replied, "I'll be lynched if I don't."

And so, as a trickle of light aircraft descended from the skies to land in the nearby airfield, Computastars kicked off.

The first event was the scooter distance relay. It required three competitors from each team to hurtle up and down the 80m course on natty little scooters for five minutes. Cairns claimed this event was the most gruelling, and it was certainly a good test of stamina. However, judging by the look on competitors' faces after some of the other events scooters were not the most fearsome torture to be inflicted.

Tech Connect and London Clearing House took an early lead in the men's heats and Oracle 2 made a strong start in the women's race.

Events two and three brought a flavour of England to the Belgian stadium, as ITers showed their prowess at the cricket bowling and tennis shots.

Both competitions were designed to test hand/eye co-ordination. Entrants were required to throw a cricket ball at the stumps to dislodge the bails as many times as possible in the allotted time.

On the tennis court, teams of three had to return balls fired at them from a machine, without sending them flying out of the court. It may sound straightforward, but balls flew everywhere, and spectators lining the court were certainly glad to have the protection of a wire mesh fence.

After three events, Man Schmidt from Air Miles Promotions and Mark White from Tech Connect were storming into the lead for the individual titles.

It was after the tennis that things got a bit more physical. Event four, the pull ups, was harsh. Competitors had to pull themselves up on a bar from a near vertical position. Early in the day one competitor was heard to say, "There's always one bad event isn't there." Another announced, "You have to be joking - I'm not doing that."

And oh! How they suffered. This was clear from their contorted faces and shaking arms. Strength was what was required - it was painful to watch.

Despite the lunchtime rain, competitors were in high spirits, if a little knackered. Although teams talked tactics and discussed how to prepare for the afternoon's events, none could have expected what would unfold in the fifth test.

Billed in the programme as "an almost straightforward race", the 30m dash turned out to be very far from straightforward. Competitors were required to lay face down on the grass, hands tied behind their backs. Without using their feet they had to propel themselves up the course. This proved to be quite a spectacle, and incredibly funny to watch, until the competitors started to get grass burns. So determined were they that their shoulders started to lose skin as they dug them into the ground.

At this point Cairns stepped in and stopped the event. Competitors were then put to an alternative test that involved clicking handheld timers with their arms outstretched. This only lasted a minute but was a real slog.

When I asked how difficult it was Cairns invited me to try it - and sure enough, it turned out to be far more painful than it looked.

With the grass burn drama still fresh in their minds, competitors turned their attention to plank walking. Teams had to run up the course with two planks and a bundle of rope. They then had to stand on the planks and march ski-style back to the start, lifting the planks with loops of rope. For half an hour all that could be heard was the marking of steps, "left, right, left, right".

With the skiing done, everyone's attention turned to the finale - the steeplechase. As ever, it did not disappoint. The veterans were particularly impressive in this event, showing some of the young pretenders how to run, and run fast. The water hurdle, as usual, provided total entertainment, as bodies flopped, scrambled and fell into the watery trap.

With shattered athletes dotted around the athletics track, all that was left was the prize ceremony. Cairns had brought in a local dignitary, Wille Labens, and a podium for the Olympic-style medal hand-out. But it didn't end there. After the winners took their moments of glory on the podium, the BBQ was set up and an evening of revelry ensued.

Computastars winners 2000

Men's Individual event winners   points
1 Mark White, Tech Connect 77
2 Peter Calthorpe, NPI 70
2 Paul Dugan,London Clearing House 70
4 Alun Bason, Birmingham Midshires 69
4 Tim Houlder, Abbey Life 69

Women's Individual event winners   points
1 Man Schmidt, Air Miles Promotions 85
2 Rebecca Strong, Air Miles Promotions 80
3 Sam Humphrey, Oracle 1 78
4 Jo Weekes, Oracle 2 77
5 Audra Wheeler, London Clearing House 74

Men's Team event winners   points
1 Tech Connect 233
2 London Clearing House 219
2 Compaq 219
4 NPI 202
4 Oracle 2 202

Women's team event winners   points
1 Air Miles Promotions 248
2 Oracle 2 221
3 Oracle 1 217
4 BT 214
4 Compaq 214

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