IT HAS been a long slog for the badminton players, the only sport to take place on each of the 11 days at the Commonwealth Games.
But the wait was made worthwhile when Robert Blair and Imogen Bankier won a mixed doubles bronze and Kirsty Gilmour enjoyed an extraordinary semi-final victory to earn a place in today’s women’s singles gold medal match at The Emirates Arena.
The 20-year-old Gilmour now has a chance to join Dan Travers and Billy Gilliland – in the men’s doubles at Edinburgh 1986 – as the only Scottish badminton players to win a Games title and she has also
surpassed the previous best by a singles player, Susan Egelstaff’s bronze from Melbourne 2006.
Blair and Bankier recovered from a disheartening 14-21, 14-21 semi-final defeat by arch English rivals, Chris Adcock and his wife Gabby, to beat Malaysia’s Peng Soon Chan and Lai Pei Jing 21-17, 21-11 in the bronze play-off.
It really was a crazy women’s singles semi. Gilmour won the first game 21-13 against Malaysia’s Jing Yi Tee but even she was almost resigned to it going to a decider when she trailed 11-19 in the second. But she then reeled off the next ten points, surely unprecedented at this level of badminton, to win the match and the crowd almost exploded.
“It’s amazing, unbelievable,” said the ecstatic Scottish champion, who was thrilled to witness Blair and Bankier’s evening success. “The whole crowd got behind me and the atmosphere was fantastic. It’s so good to know that almost everyone watching is rooting for you.
“When I fell so far behind in the second game, I did wonder whether to give away two points or keep going. But I got one point, then two and the rest is all a bit of a blur.”
As the No.2 seed, the Bothwell youngster has lived with the pressure of trying to fulfil her medal potential, and she has tried her damndest to banish dreams of mounting the podium. “But, in the ideal world, this is how I had planned it in my head,” she continued.
In the final she will meet Michelle Li, the hugely experienced Canadian No.3 seed upsetting the favourite, India’s P V Sindhu 22-20, 22-20.
“I’ve never met Li but she’s obviously playing well to beat Sindhu so it’s going to be tough,” Gilmour asserted. “To know that a medal is guaranteed is such a nice feeling but there won’t be any let-up. One more match to go.”
Gilmour had lost comfortably to Tee in the quarter-final of the team match last Saturday. But what a difference a week makes in badminton. She was dominant in the first game, her net play causing the stocky Asian all sorts of bother. She did lose the momentum at the start of the
second, but then there was the whirlwind final that sparked an outburst of joy from the whole of the arena.
When Gilmour clinched the winning point, she threw her racket in the air, fell flat on her back and clasped her hands over her face in disbelief. She then jumped up and hugged coaches Yvette Yun Luo and Chris Bruil before finding her dad Brian in the crowd.
But she couldn’t celebrate too much. There is more work to be done today and she hoped that there wouldn’t be too many penultimate night parties taking place at the
“Imogen and I had a big room at the front but we’ve swapped with Jillie [Cooper] and Caitlin [Pringle] and we’re now at the back. I hope to get a good night’s sleep, but I’m not sure that I will,” said Gilmour
For 32-year-old Blair, who won team silver (2002) and a men’s doubles bronze (2006) for England, the bronze medal decider was an emotion-charged victory.
Born in Edinburgh and raised in Longniddry, Blair played for England for ten years on residential grounds. “But this is completely different,” he said. “This is by far the most satisfying thing I have ever done in my career. This is a moment to savour for the rest of my life.”
Bankier and her father, Celtic chairman Ian Bankier, were both in tears as they hugged each other at the end of the match. “It’s been such an emotional week,” said the 26-year-old Glaswegian. “There have been amazing highs and lows.
“We were so disappointed to lose our semi-final this morning but we had to pick ourselves up.”
Blair admitted it had been difficult to fill the void between the morning semi and evening play-off. “Everything was going through our heads and we knew the bronze medal was the last-chance saloon.”