WINNING a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games as a 20-year-old in a home arena packed out with a partisan support is something most people would treasure but it took time for Kirsty Gilmour to reach that conclusion in the aftermath of Glasgow 2014.
“Obviously, it is sad to end any event on a loss and winning the silver medal is the only time you do that but still get a reward, but, looking back, I recognise that it was a momentous occasion. But, instead of the final, I look back on the semi-final and think of that as the moment I got the job done.”
That semi-final was the defining moment of the her blossoming career. Already the Scottish and British No.1, she proved she had the competitive will and wherewithal to compete at the elite level. She won ten points in a row to battle back from 19-11 down and ensure she would finish with at least a silver and elevate her to the status of most successful Scottish female badminton player of all time.
It was also the moment that forced the nation to sit up and take notice of her sport, as they hoped and prayed for yet another gold. She said: “It is really difficult to explain what it is like to play in that kind of environment. When you walk out into the arena, when, on the last day, there were 4,000 people packed in and around 99 per cent of them were on my side, and you know that everyone is just willing you, as an individual, on and wanting you to win. I can’t really describe that feeling, but it’s something I will never forget. It does help, but you still have to focus and, although you are aware of it all, you have to imagine there are four walls around the court and try to shut them out as much as possible.
“We were talking about this the other day and I said that I can’t actually remember most of those last ten points – maybe 18 and 19 – but the rest is a blur, I was so zoned in,” added the University of the West of Scotland student.
She’s studying film-making and screenwriting but she only remembers the ending. “I just remember collapsing backwards after the last point and throwing my racquet in the air. It was sheer relief because every day in the two years leading up to it had been all about that. A lot of work had gone into getting there. I’ve been playing badminton for more than 15 years but I’m still young and I know that most people go through their careers and don’t get to experience something like that.”
The fact Gilmour had to wait so long to get her shot at glory was torture. While the euphoria grew in the city and throughout the land, she had to get on with business and remain relatively ensconced in her own wee bubble.
“My medal was Scotland’s last medal. I had kept up to date with all the medals we were winning and I’m not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but people were winning medals on day one when we were playing the likes of Barbados or Mauritius and as far away from a medal match as we possibly could be. It was difficult to see people bringing in the hoards of medals and having to wait so long for my chance. When my chance came along I did put pressure on myself. I wanted the gold and I think that’s why I was initially disappointed but when I look back I’m proud of the semi-final and I know silver is a great achievement.”
By ensuring Badminton Scotland exceeded their pre-Games promise of one medal [Imogen Bankier and Robert Blair delivered bronze in the mixed doubles], Gilmour, who now has her sights set on the 2016 Olympics in Rio, secured ongoing funding, impetus and interest in the sport in this country.
Buoyed further by the announcement that the 2017 World Championships will be staged at the Emirates Arena, Glasgow, the homegrown stars return to the scene of their Commonwealth triumphs this week to contest the Scottish Open. It is a title that the Bothwell player is desperate to win. The top seed this time around, she finished runner-up to Carolina Marin, who went on to add the world title last year. “Always second place! I really need that to change,” she said, with a potent mix of exasperation and determination.
“The Scottish is one of my favourite of all the tournaments but this year it is even more special because of all the memories I have from the Games and the chance I get to play in Glasgow again, in front of a home crowd.
“I’m one of the few top Scottish players who hasn’t won it. I have come so close but that’s not good enough. I want to win.”