Questions of Sport: Gail Emms

Badminton star Gail Emms holds court about nagging Nathan Robertson and Olympic anguish. From Times Online:

What got you into badminton?
My parents were members of a tennis and badminton club in Bedford. When I was three or four years old they gave me a cut-down racket. As a child I spent all my spare time there, joining the junior club and progressing that way. I always had good hand-eye coordination, even at a young age.

When you are young, how important is support from your family?
There was never any problem. My mum was very sporty. She played for England in the women’s football World Cup in Mexico in 1971. She played tennis and badminton to a good standard so I had loads of support. She also played cricket and was good enough to turn out for a men’s team. My dad was right behind me, too. He did most of the chauffeuring when I started competing.

What inspired you to go into top-class sport as a career?
The thrill of watching the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992. I was 15 and I was captivated by the event. When Sally Gunnell won the 400m hurdles me and my mum were jumping around, yelling our heads off.

Is it vital that your partner is also a friend?
It helps. In 2002 I partnered Joanne Goode in the women’s doubles at the Commonwealth Games and we got on fine. Donna Kellogg, my later doubles partner, is also a good friend. I’ve known Nathan [former mixed doubles partner Nathan Robertson] since I was 13. We’re like an old married couple, nagging and bickering, although there is no romance. We’ve been through so much over the last five years. We won silver at the 2004 Olympics and gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and 2006 World Championships.

Do you have heroes in other sports?
Gunnell was inspirational. Also Kelly Holmes – what a tremendous athlete. And my mum, of course. When she played for England she was known as the ‘Blonde Bombshell’. I’ve seen the cuttings from Mexico but never saw her play.

What does the future hold?
I retired after the 2008 Olympics. I’ve done TV presenting and media work. I’m also involved in mentoring youngsters who want to get into badminton and that’s great fun.

Did you ever yearn to live a normal life?
Definitely. I can’t count the times I’ve had to miss things I really wanted to go to because of the demands of training or tournaments. I’ve envied many of my friends from school and university getting married and having babies while I have had to concentrate on sport. I missed my best friend’s wedding to play in a tournament and that still nags at me. Mind, I’m only 31 and now I have some time for all that. I know there’s more to life.

Do you have any regrets?
Not winning an Olympic gold medal. I achieved everything else I could have wished for.

Do you have time for romance these days?
I live with my boyfriend, Ed Vince, and we’ve got a place in Milton Keynes. He’s a policeman and we met through my sister.

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About badmintonmania

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the Indian in Thoreau's Walden who makes cane baskets and is surprised nobody wants them. A. was talking about discipline when she said: "But Dev, if you want to move ahead in life, you'll have to be like that," and she may as well have defined everything else for me. I've played the low percentage game for too long to believe there's anything in it but the romance; the odds keep getting jacked up higher and higher; and you may be a good Idealist but a worse Fool.
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