Ultimate could very shortly be seen in the Olympic Games after it received official IOC recognition in 2015Tasha Smith

Athlete Profile

  • Name: Tasha Smith
  • College: Downing
  • Degree: HSPS – 3rd Year
  • Hometown: Tunbridge Wells

Tasha Smith’s career in ultimate frisbee (commonly referred to as Ultimate) has taken off since her Freshers’ Week two years ago. Having never even heard of the sport, she is now Captain of the Cambridge University Ultimate Club's women’s team, known competitively as Strange Blue, which came in the top 20 of the British University Championships. She is also the captain of Downing College’s Ultimate team.

Can you give us a brief summary of Ultimate? 

Ultimate is like a cross between netball and American football, though, of course, you’re playing with a disc. There are seven players on each team and the goal is to move the disc up the field until you catch it in the end zone to score the point, just like scoring a touchdown in American football. You aren’t allowed to move with the disc and you have to throw the disc within 10 seconds of getting it. There aren’t really positions, though there are two kinds of players: cutters – they do a lot more sprinting to catch the disc – while handlers are the strong throwers who distribute out the disc. It can be played indoors or outdoors: usually the outdoor games last just over an hour, including a half-time, while the indoor games are played on a basketball court and are shorter because the game is faster.

How did you first get into the sport?

I signed up at Freshers’ Week when I had that stereotypical mindset of wanting to trying out new things. I went to a taster session at Downing Paddock – apparently we’re one of the biggest colleges for it – thinking it’d be a joke but, within an hour, I was hooked and I’ve never really looked back.

One of the greatest things about the sport is the atmosphere: I love how much of a team sport it is and the solidarity among all the players. It’s really great to be a part of. Also, the fact it’s self-refereed means a lot of emphasis is placed on ‘Spirit’ (which is like sportsmanship) and being honest and fair – so there’s a friendly atmosphere on the field, which still doesn’t undermine the competitiveness, too.

What is the hardest thing about Ultimate?

Obviously the sport is very dependent on the wind – it usually adds to the excitement and the challenge but if it’s too strong it can wipe out games and it can be hard not to get frustrated by that! The sport is also very intense and requires a lot of sprinting, so making sure you have the stamina levels – particularly at tournaments where you play three or four matches a day – is very tough.

You don’t know how to properly throw a disc before you start – there’s a technique you can get the hang of very quickly. In fact, you’ll suddenly start learning all of these different ways of throwing the disc you’ve never even contemplated before!

Who is the most famous athlete in your sport?

Ultimate is a lot bigger in the US – they have two professional leagues – and there’s a guy called Brodie Smith who’d be the household name if the sport were bigger in the UK. He plays for the Dallas Roughnecks and releases a lot of trick shot videos on YouTube. He’d be the guy you’ll come across if you’re looking at it on Google.

What is the state of the sport in Cambridge and internationally?

Our men’s team is very successful usually – in 2014, they came first at the nationals – and the women’s team usually come in the top 20, too! Even though the women’s team won the indoor match, Oxford beat us at the Varsity match last year because the outdoor match has more weighting. And we had four Cambridge team members and alumni playing in this year’s World Championships which were held in St Albans. We’ve done well in getting recognition for the women’s team, so female players can get a half-Blue in the sport though, unfortunately, it’s not the same for the men.

Internationally, Ultimate is played by almost 60 countries and, in 2015, it was officially recognised by the International Olympic Committee, which gives the sport the possibility for the organisation to receive IOC funding and joining the Olympic Games, which would give us an amazing amount of publicity!

What is your training schedule like?

Ultimate is the kind of sport where you can choose your commitment level depending on the level you’re aiming for. Personally, I’m incredibly keen and usually play it every single day, both for college and the University. We have two or three University training sessions a week plus some fitness sessions, which range from high-intensity cardio sessions with lots of sprinting to weight and strength training. The latter often includes plyometrics because a lot of the sport is jumping!

How do you reconcile a Cambridge workload and your training schedule?

Luckily, my course doesn’t have a lot of contact hours and I can fit my work around Ultimate.  If I have loads of work, that takes priority because I’m here to get a degree, not play. But that hasn’t happened much. Every now and then you have a late night or two, but that’s just Cambridge life! Sometimes in tournaments, I take my work with me – which is such a Cambridge thing to do – but on the whole, playing Ultimate has not me stopped from doing my work, or indeed anything else – I was on the Rag Committee and Downing JCR last year, too.

How might somebody interested in playing Ultimate get involved?

Because it’s a low-profile sport, we use the college league as the entry point into the sport so beginners should get involved in that. There’s a bunch of people from the University team who play in that and can help you progress up the ladder. If people want more information on the sport, though, people can visit our website or our Facebook page. And if anyone has any specific questions about Ultimate frisbee, they can email me (ns624@cam.ac.uk).

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

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