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Gail force: Emms stars in a sport where the shuttle hits 200mph (pic)

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Category: Badminton News Published: 11 July 2008
Written by BadmintonPlanet.com Hits: 738

By Lee Clayton Last updated at 8:22 PM on 11th July 2008

For those who consider badminton a sleepy pastime played by the carpet slipper brigade at the village hall, get this. The top players now smash the shuttle at 200mph.

The world record speed for the shuttle (the pros have dropped the 'cock' bit) is 212mph, the world's best girls can strike at up to 140mph and Gail Emms has an explosive right hand that spells danger. This lady is anything but sleepy.

The buzzing poster girl of the sport is heading for the Beijing University of Technology aiming to go one better than the silver medal collected in Athens four years ago. And she has extended an invite to show me how.

There is no sign of her Olympic doubles partner Nathan Robertson (he must have been scared) so it's just me and Emms at Center Parcs, rackets at the ready.

 

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Poster girl: Beijing hopeful Emms even finds time to relax before her big test

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Athletic: Emms combines speed, power, grace and aggression
 

 

After our knock-up session resulted in an umpteenth mis-hit shot into the net, my hostess warns: 'You'll ache in the morning.'

Truth is, as I am sent stretching and stumbling for another deep lob, I am aching already.

Her net-kill shot has to be seen to be believed. I guess I wasn't meant to be admiring it, more trying to reach it. Fat chance.

As soon as she's finished a shoot in the sunshine for Sportsmail she's back on court, and with a bit of devil about her. 'Right, let's play a game. If I win 15-0, you can buy the Starbucks.

If you win a point, drinks are on me. OK?' Next, we are sitting in the coffee shop and I am enjoying a round of drinks the world champion has had to pay for.

'You look like you have played a bit,' is what I am sure she might have said, after she had stopped complaining about another half-hit effort that clipped the frame of my borrowed racket and dribbled over the net to leave her stranded at the back of the court.

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Back to back: Gail Emms and Lee Clayton
 

Who needs speed and power when you've got a deceptively deft drooping point winner up your sleeve?

Beware, in case the Chinese catch on. Once she called time on my creaking back after sending me to all four corners of the court in search of one decent return, Ms Emms was extremely good company. There is something about her.

Watch her while you can because she's considering retirement after Beijing. Now 30, she's been playing international badminton for 17 years.

'The difference in the game at the top level now is amazing, the standard is so high,' she explained.

'There is the athleticism, the power. Players are better, stronger.

'The rackets generate more speed, there are the bio-mechanics. When players are smashing, putting their whole body into it, leaping four feet off the ground, you put everything you've got into winning a point. When it comes over the net, it will hurt if the shuttle hits you.

'China hold the world record for the fastest shot (212 mph). Some of the old players don't believe the speeds we are hitting the shots now. They will claim nothing has changed, but it has. Even since Athens, the game has changed.

'I've had to change my fitness routine. I am fitter, stronger, faster, a better player. I've had to be. My legs are so strong now, because of the movement, the loading, the intensity every rally demands.

'The point-scoring has changed. You can win a point in every rally now, so you can't afford to start slowly or else you will be 5-0 down before you are in the game.'

I shall try to remember that next time.

'You can't stand to admire a shot, you can't afford silly mistakes. One mistake is the difference. You have to be at 100 per cent in training, 100 per cent in each game. Eight couples can win the gold in Beijing.

'My body responds to the physical training. Physically, my body is suited to exercise. I don't struggle with the intensity; I love the challenge.

'The travelling is the biggest problem for me, the mental strain. As you get older, there are other things you want in your life. I've missed out so much since I was playing for England's juniors at 13. I missed out on the parties, weddings, births, boys.

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Smasher: Gail Emms leaves Lee Clayton flat-footed with a smash

'It's time to make up for it, time to party! I'd love to start a family, which is why this will be my last Olympics. You know, I'd love to play in the London Olympics, but I'll be 35.

'That's another four years of commitment. Another four years of sacrifice. I don't know if I can do that. I'll be there as a supporter, because I am passionate about the Olympics.

'I love sport, British sport, English sport. I am patriotic and, as a nation, we are suckers for sporting drama. I watch the England football and rugby teams from behind the sofa.'

Unless I have really impressed her with my clumsy lumbering around the court, the impressive Robertson will be back alongside Emms when they take on the world's finest in China.

The threat will naturally come mainly from Asia (42 of the 46 Olympic medals awarded since badminton' s debut at the Barcelona games in 1992 have gone to players from that region), but this pair have seen it all before.

There is a chemistry between them on court that had tongues wagging long before Jamie Murray and Jelena Jankovic wooed Wimbledon last year.

'Yes, there is a spark between us, we bounce off of each other. It gets to the point now where we can finish each other's sentences, yet we are completely opposite characters,' she says.

'It's like a mutual respect, a familiarity like brother and sister. It's a partnership. Not many people get that. In the seven years we have played together, we have never had an argument. I do nag him a lot, though.

'He's laid back, very chilled, he's Mr Cool: I am feisty, extrovert. He left school at 16 and began playing badminton, I went to university and sat my A-levels. He loves his poker. He's amazing but I can't play it to save my life.'

Time away will be spent training and watching box sets of her favourite series, such as her suitable current favourite, Heroes.

Emms is talking on the day when Center Parcs announce a five-year partnership with Badminton England.

The holiday operator hires out 107,000 courts to families every year, which reveals one of the attractions of this game - everyone has tried or can try to play.

Badminton is the second largest participation sport in the country, but, seeing Emms close up, her game is something else - speed, power, grace and that aggressive, damned, point-winning darting surge into the net.

She accepts: 'Badminton isn't seen as being as glamorous as tennis. It has this village hall stigma attached to it. Anyone who would come up to me and ask 'what do you do?', when I told them, they'd say they could beat me.

Especially the men. I wanted more respect for being an elite athlete, for being No 1 in the world. Then they watched the Olympics.'

Believe me, don't challenge her. It's a foolish act. I lost 15-3, but she was going easy on me, even if she said otherwise later. And I am pretty proud of the 'three' as I report the result.

A career in the media may beckon when she smashes no more.

'I'd also like to work in sport, as an ambassador or sporting role model. I want sport to be accessible to everyone, for every age. Sport can make a difference to what we are seeing happening in our schools and on our streets right now.

'It would also be fun to become a Gladiator,' she smiles. 'I know, I could be called Gail Force.'

She already is.

(source: www.dailymail.co.uk) 

 

 

 

 

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