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Gail Emms chats to Sportsister
Gail Emms is one of Britain’s must successful and popular sportswomen, Sportsister caught up with her after the announcement that she has become the UK’s first Ambassador for Badminton
What does your job as Ambassador entail?
There has never been an Ambassador for Badminton, so in a way we are making it up as we go along. But mainly I am acting as a mentor for the up and coming girls. There are a lot of great girls coming through and I am using the knowledge that I have gained in my career to help them. We want them to get to 2012 and to get the best out of them.
Do you actually play with them or just advise?
Yes, I have just come off the court now, luckily I am still beating them, but it won’t last for ever! It’s so important for them to realise how hard it is to get to the top. Hopefully with my imput I can give them some real help with how to deal with it, but also to show them that it can be done – you can win a medal – I am living proof of that.
I am not the most technical player, I am not the fittest or the strongest – what I did was make sure I was the best that I could be.
I trained myself to be the fittest that I could be. That’s all you can do – I knew that I was as good as I ever could be, I had done everything possible and most importantly I wanted to win.
What other projects are you involved with?
I am doing some media work working on Destination 2012, a Channel 4 sports programme on Sunday morning so that’s quite a challenge. Its quite scary going from being the best at something to being right back at the bottom and learning something new. But it is a great challenge and the next phase of my life.
I am also doing some work with the Youth Sports Trust and lots of other small projects, in fact I am really busy, which is a good thing.
Do you miss being part of the team and the lifestyle that goes with it?
I could have carried on, physically there is no reason why not, but mentally I was ready to retire. All I wanted was Olympic gold, that was all that was left for me to win, I have no inclination to win the National Championships and do all the competitions that it takes to get to the Olympics again. I felt that I wouldn’t be in better shape than I was in Beijing in London, so the time was right to stop.
I miss the adrenalin rush of competition, but I am getting that through new projects and through pushing myself outside my comfort zone. I still see all the people though – they are not getting rid of me that quickly!
How did you get started in Badminton?
I started competing at seven years old, I was so lucky because I grew up around the corner from a tennis and badminton club. My parents were pretty sporty, and it was just part of my life and the centre was like our community – all my friends were there. At seven I was beating 11 year olds, so I got a taste of winning very early on. In fact I pretty soon realised I was good at badminton and got a bit cocky !
So as a teenager were you tempted as so many others are to give it all up?
Well yes, actually it was not an easy time. I played a lot of hockey at school, and that was very important to me and lots of my friends were in the team. But I was getting pressure from badminton to concentrate on that and pressure from the hockey team to play for them.
Then I had a few family issues and I went a bit rebellious and did all the usual teenager things – I wanted to give it all up. I took up drinking and smoking with the cool guys. Luckily I realised pretty quickly that that was just not me. And also because I had such a strong peer group in my hockey team, they really rescued me from that route..
..to be honest my friends were instrumental in keeping me in sport. I am not sure that I would be where I am now if it were not for them.
Badminton seems a fairly equal sport in terms of male and female participation – is that so?
Oh yes definitely – it may even be that there are more women playing than men. It’s such a social and fun game, I think that is why it is so popular – you can play at any level and push yourself as hard as you want, by playing singles, doubles or mixed doubles. The thing is because you are actually playing a game as opposed to working out it’s just so much more enjoyable.
You have been very outspoken about the pressure to sex-up for the camera as a player, do you still feel that pressure now?
As a youngster I did really feel the pressure, I was always being asked to wear different things. Now I am so much more established, I am me and I am more confident to be able to say no – you know what? I am an Olympic medallist and I don’t need to do that.
What I don’t like is the pressure that is placed on up and coming sportswomen who need publicity but the only option is to pose for the lads mags. If that is what they want to do then fair enough but it is so sad that so often it is seen as something they just have to do to attract sponsorship.
Now since Beijing, there are so many more role models, and such a variety of women of all ages and shapes and sizes it is all a much more healthy mix. Its so important to show all different types of women making it in sport.
So who should we been looking out for in London 2012 and beyond?
Jenny Wallwork who is now partnering Nathan, she’s 22, a great character and a really feisty girl with a fantastic mental attitude. Also Gaby White, she is 18 and a fantastic talent, she has more skill than I ever had – she really is great prospect.
Danielle Sellwood, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
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