Princess Anne was among the spectators as the UK's largest annual multi-sports competition got underway in Sheffield on Friday (February 17).
More than 6,000 students are set to battle it out in nine different sports at venues across the city this weekend in the British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) Nationals.
Olympic medallists and finalists are among those in action across the three days, and Princess Anne - a former Sports Personality of the Year winner - visited the English Institute of Sport in Attercliffe on the opening day to see the calibre of those in action.
Among those she met was Sheffield Hallam's Max Litchfield who finished fourth in the 400m individual medley in the pool in Rio last summer.
The 21-year-old will be in action at Ponds Forge this weekend, where Rio 2016 medallists James Guy and Jazz Carlin will be among the other world beaters taking to the water in a bid to be crowned Britain's best student.
Max Litchfield was among a reception line of athletes, officials and volunteers which greeted the princess on the championships' opening day.
BUCS chief executive Vince Mayne said: "Princess Anne has been there, been to an Olympic Games, been in that melting pot of pressure, so she knows what it’s like to compete.
“So to come and see our students competing, she can understand what they’re going through, so I think to have someone of her profile and involvement in different sports charities is exceptional.
“For the students to see someone like that, it gives them a role model who they can be proud of and perhaps aspire to some of the things that she has achieved.”
Max is an old hand at the BUCS Nationals but said the competition still got the adrenaline going.
"I’m very excited. It’s my fourth time at BUCS National so I’ve got used to what it’s like, but I’m still very, very excited about competing on Friday night, and the rest of the weekend,” he said.
“It was an amazing experience to meet Princess Anne, I’ve not really had anything like that before...
"It’s amazing to have that royal recognition for BUCS. University sport has been great over the last few years in the UK and it’s only growing."
The competition, which has been the springboard for many professional athletes, is in its fifth year and continues to grow.
BUCS has teamed up with Sheffield International Venues to stage the event, and SIV's director of operations Lorenzo Clarke said he was thrilled to begin the weekend with a royal visit.
"We boast in Sheffield that we’re the home of sport and the nation’s first love when it comes to sporting cities - and the royal visit just adds value and adds kudos to our event and city," he said.
“The princess wasn’t just saying hello, shaking a hand and then moving on. She spent time with everyone, from volunteers to officials and competitors, and asked some challenging questions. She’s clearly very passionate about sport and it was fantastic to be able to welcome here to Sheffield, and to BUCS Nationals."
British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) is the national governing body for Higher Education (HE) sport in the UK, organising leagues and competitions for more than 150 institutions across 52 different sports.