As A world championship silver medallist in 2011 and an Olympian last year, it would be easy to assume that Imogen Bankier’s return to Scotland at the end of last year marked the start of a career wind down. But not so.
The Glasgow 25-year-old has already won two titles this season – the French International mixed doubles with Robert Blair and the French Open women’s doubles with Bulgarian Petya Nedelcheva – and next year’s Commonwealth Games are now gaining her full attention.
Following the split after three hugely successful years in mixed doubles with England’s Chris Adcock, Bankier is delighted to state that working with Scottish coaches Yvette Yun Luo and John Quinn at Scotstoun is “going really well”.
Her experience will be invaluable for the national team at this month’s Li-Ning Sudirman Cup (19-26 May). In the round robin stage, the Scots meet Russia, the USA and Sweden.
“Last year was all about the Olympics but now I have a different focus. It’s the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next year,” said Bankier, who gave up a law degree to follow her sport and has played full-time for the past six years. “I’m really enjoying this season. For instance, it’s great to be back playing ladies’ doubles again. It’s like a new challenge. Petya and I have had a win, a second and a semi-final and we’re now up to No 74 in the world. I have to get into the top 50 to qualify for the Commonwealth Games. It was also good to win again with Robert [Blair] and the whole Scottish set-up is so positive.”
Blair and Bankier reached the world’s top ten in 2008 but Edinburgh-born Blair, who played for England for several years but makes his return to the Scottish team at the Sudirman Cup, has been paired with Jillie Cooper for most of this season and Bankier would not be drawn on her future plans.
“After the Sudirman Cup I think decisions will have to be made on partnerships,” she said. “But it is good that there are some different options.”
With the recent news that the Scottish Open in November is to be upgraded to a Grand Prix, it certainly seems as though Bankier’s decision to head home was well timed.
Following the Olympic Games, English badminton is going through a period of transition – or should that be turmoil – and a country that has featured in the medals in recent years is not even competing in Kuala Lumpur this month.
When Glasgow hosted the Sudirman Cup in 2007, Blair was a member of the England side that claimed the bronze medal behind China and South Korea. How times have changed. Further signs of Scotland’s rise came last week when the under-15 team beat England, Wales and Ireland in the Quadrangular International in Ireland.
The Scottish youngsters also won four of the five individual titles, with Motherwell’s Alex Dunn enjoying a clean sweep of singles, doubles and mixed. “That was another sign of how good we are at the moment. I think it was another wake-up call for England,” said Anne Smillie, the chief executive of Badmintonscotland.
“We have a good bunch of seniors and some great juniors ready to break through.”
It seems as though the investment in foreign coaches has paid dividends. Bulgarian Diana Koleva has been involved with the Junior Performance programme for almost ten years and Bankier was one of her first charges.
China’s Yun Luo took over as national coach in 2009 and she has also instilled some steely determination and hard work into the Scottish camp.
Kirsty Gilmour, just 19, is a product of the Koleva/Yun Luo conveyor belt and she is now at No 38 in the world in women’s singles.
Just 14 months to go, and Scottish badminton is striding confidently towards Glasgow 2014.