We Spent The Hottest Day Of The Year Watching The Stihl Timbersports British Championship
Sunshine, sibling rivalry, and some seriously competitive woodchopping; we experienced it all, and more, at the Royal Three Counties Show in Worcestershire
It wasn’t just about the woodchucks this year at the Stihl Timbersports British Championship. The attention was very much on the country’s woodworking women as eight female athletes carved out their own piece of history by competing in the first (ever) British Women’s Championship.
Each year the most elite British lumberjacks (and now ‘lumberjills’) compete at the Stihl Timbersports Championship, in a number of disciplines, where they put their skills to the test. Royal Three Counties Show in Malvern was the host for this year’s event between the 17th and 19th June. The weekend of woodchopping was opened by the women, with the Pro Stihl Timbersports British Championship and the British Rookie Championship (under 25s) being performed on the Saturday and Sunday respectively.
The elite male Timbersports athletes are required to compete in six disciplines, the rookies four; with the women cutting their teeth with three. The overall winners are decided on points gained across the day, with no room for mistakes in any of the events.
What are the disciplines then? Well, some involve swinging an axe inches away from your feet whilst standing on an elevated log, while others involve “cookies” (although they can’t track you online, and disappointingly, you can’t eat them). The cookies are circular wooden discs must be cut to perfection with either a STIHL MS 661 petrol chainsaw or a two-metre cross-cut saw, depending on the discipline.
List of disciplines
The Underhand Chop: using an axe to chop through a horizontal block of wood, while standing on top of it
The Standing Block Chop: using an axe to chop through a vertical block of wood raised at chest height
The Stock Saw: using a chainsaw to cut two circles (or “cookies”) from a block of wood
The Single Buck: using a two-metre cross-cut saw to cut a singular cookie from a block of wood
The Springboard: using an axe to cut pockets into a block of wood, in which to insert two platforms, climb up and chop off a block at the top of the log
The Hot Saw: using an extremely powerful custom-built chainsaw to cut three circles from a block of wood
Slicing and dicing their way through thick timber logs is not easy going, and each of these events requires a careful blend of brute power, focus and endurance. This competition showcases athletes from all over Britain, with many getting into the swing of things by attending training camps run by Stihl Timbersports throughout the year.
“The athletes forgot about friendships, picked up the nearest power tool and made solid blocks of wood wish they were still saplings”
Not one single splinter for us while attending and watching this year’s carnage, but what we did get was a thrilling and enthralling encounter that had everything you could ever want from an extreme sport. From the moment the klaxon sounded, it was action galore as the athletes forgot about friendships, picked up the nearest power tool and made solid blocks of wood wish they were still saplings.
Taking place in front of a live audience for the first time since 2019, the women were on a personal mission to wow the crowd and get the Royal Three Counties Show amped up for the event. Enter the one and only Dulcie “Dee” Hardwick. Worcestershire’s very own Duracell Bunny and a hometown hero on a quest to win the whole thing. At 6 feet tall and a rugby player by trade, her sheer strength clearly made her a formidable opponent in the world of Timbersports. She made the stage her own with an infectious brand of energy.
Dulcie was raring to go from the buzzer, taking on the wood with power and very much putting herself on for a great time in the stock saw. But of course every pantomime must, inevitably, come with a villain and, in this case, his name was Bart Jansen. The Dutch referee threw down the yellow flag in Dee’s direction. We wanted to boo him. For a brief second, we even contemplated hurling our Stihl foam finger in his direction. Whether the decision was right or not, Bart bravely threw that flag while Dulcie was still in control of a fully operational chainsaw. The man’s clearly got a pair of conkers on him, if nothing else.
This moment set the scene for what was an up and down battle for most. It was a real seesaw ride, and felt like a proper power struggle at times. There was, throughout it all, no doubting the extent to which the day’s competitors wanted to impress. Many were battling the pressure of this being their first event. It all taking place on Britain’s hottest day of the year (so far) meant the temperature literally crept up in parallel with the rising tension levels.
“The drama was palpable”
For the dedicated competitor Martine Arrowsmith, it was to be a bittersweet finish on the single buck. She was fiercely battling her opponent, with all her might, and looked to be in a winning position but tragedy struck when Martine lost her footing and appeared to hurt her knee quite badly. It was a moment when a wave of realisation hit the crowd that this is actually an extreme sport, with all of the genuine risks for the athletes that such a label entails.
Much to the relief of everyone in attendance though, Martine was able to quickly get some treatment. It meant she was ruled out of the competition and provided a window of opportunity for her rivals to snatch the win. The drama was palpable.
Ready to go for gold was Zoe Penlington, hailing from a family of Timbersports enthusiasts. You could see the passion within her on stage, with each swing of the axe and movement of the saw increasing her confidence. The girl from Powys was putting up a fight, and the crowd all knew about it. Her family pedigree, more on that shortly, shone through with Zoe going on to make history in Malvern by becoming the first woman to win the British Championship. By the end, you could see that she was fully believing in her abilities to perform when it mattered most. It acted as the best birthday present for Zoe’s father, Bob, who helped train his daughter in the sport.
The victory also lit a fire for Zoe’s brother Glen, who was gunning for the pro title. And guess what? It only went and worked. It was double gold for the Penlington family, which meant a very happy celebration and, we’d imagine, an even bigger celebratory bill at the bar later.
In the rookie competition, Jack Morris took gold thanks to particularly impressive times in both the standing back chop and the single buck with an assist. You can take a look at the official finishing tables from all three events down at the bottom of this article.
A huge Mpora congratulations to every competitor who took part over the weekend. It was an outrageous event with some epic moments, and we can’t wait to see what the World Championships have in store when they take place in Gothenburg, Sweden, on the 28th of October 2022.
Reaching the endgame of this article, we are sure that one question has been swirling around your head this whole time – what happens to the wood after the athletes are finished with it? It’s a great question to ask. We now, of course, live in a world where the sustainability of everything should be questioned.
“The wood is sustainably grown and harvested”
Considering the sheer amount of wood being chopped up at these events, Stihl Timbersports make it their duty to oversee that the wood is sustainably grown and harvested. Spike Milton is the Global Sports Director at Stihl Timbersports. Together with Bart Jansen, who is also Head of Wood at Stihl, the pair take care of sourcing the wood for competition. The timber is grown on certified plots of land. These fast-growing hybrids are 100% sustainable. Once fully grown, they are harvested with minimum impact on the natural environment.
During the competitions, the wood is collected and recycled by the Stihl crew that works tirelessly to make sure they don’t miss a single piece. In some cases, the recycled wood is turned into wood pellets for biomass that can be used as green energy. The process is then done all over again, with the guys ensuring the newly planted trees are nurtured and managed in the coming years. They do this to ensure maximum efficiency and sustainability in Stihl’s next generation of competition wood.
For all the latest news and competition info from Stihl Timbersports, you can stay updated with the help of their website. If you fancy having a go for yourself, then keep a look out for their training camps which are held throughout the year.
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