Kirsty Gilmour relishes badminton's time in TV spotlight

You know why the let went down, right? The difference between a net shot and a smash? That the Uber Cup isn't sponsored by a taxi app? Wikipedia is your friend, old chum. Welcome to the four-yearly emergence of the armchair experts in every single sport at the Olympics, the wannabe Pointless contestants who '“ almost overnight '“ become the Gary Nevilles of their own personal studio set.

Kirsty Gilmour of Team GB is setting new goals. Picture: Alex Morton/Getty Images
Kirsty Gilmour of Team GB is setting new goals. Picture: Alex Morton/Getty Images

The more, the merrier, Kirsty Gilmour says. That, surely, is one of the joys of the Games for viewers and competitors alike. “You see people who never follow badminton suddenly getting really into it,” the UK’s lone women’s singles representative observes. “And that’s great because they get to see something that’s world-class and hopefully follow it throughout the competition.

“You can’t get to Rio unless you’ve gone through an arduous qualification process and it’s quality all the way. People don’t get to see that very often so for badminton, among other sports, it’s great exposure.”

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Locating Bellshill’s Sultaness of Shuttlecock amid a Red-Buttoned schedule of sporting excess across Rio de Janeiro might require a dash of persistence but it’s worth the hunt. Following the best season of her still-fledging career, Gilmour will go into the competition next week as the number 11 seed, having reached her highest-ever ranking during a campaign that saw her ramp up her reputation with a runners-up spot at May’s European Championships.

Losing to Spain’s double world champion Carolina Marin was no disgrace. Every contest against someone currently higher up the pecking order is an opportunity to learn, every spark of exposure fuelling the Scot’s fire.

However, that continental silver pushed Gilmour firmly into the ranks of the ascendant. “It definitely proved to myself that this is possible,” she says. “If you’d said to me four years ago ‘you’ll be into the top 15 and be seeded at an Olympics’, I’m not sure I’d have believed you. But now I’ve arrived here, I want more. I’m setting new goals. That’s scary but quite cool at the same time.”

From her early forays into badminton with Glasgow’s School of Sport, Gilmour has always been seeking a quantum leap, starting close to home then venturing to the sport’s traditional heartland of Asia. It is, as anyone who has ever donned plimsolls and picked up a racket knows, a simple game at heart. Like any sport, the complexities double with every step forward.

Liaising with her primary coach Chris Bruil, technology has become as vital to their kitbag as sweatbands and socks.

“We use software to break down games and break down patterns,” Gilmour says. “We look at videos and put them through the software to get intricate data, especially on an opponent.”

Her inquisitive nature craves the whole shooting match of analytics and advice. “But part of me would rather get on and do my thing,” she says. “I don’t want to play by numbers because badminton is all about instinct. If you start thinking ‘I’m supposed to play to there, not here’, you can over-think things. You have to use your instincts.”

Bruil will not accompany her to Rio. With limited passes for support staff, the Dutchman was denied accreditation and will have to advise at long range.

Gilmour will take Games life in her stride and wake up each morning with her finger hovering over a life-sized red button. “We’re quite lucky in that we don’t compete until the second week. So for the first couple of days, I’m going to allow myself to be a bit amazed.

“Because if you go ‘no, I’m only going to focus on this now’, you lose some of the enjoyment and that makes your environment more stressful. So I’m going to permit myself to go ‘wow’ at all these people in the [Olympic] Village and then knuckle down and focus.”

Badminton competition begins for all events on August 11 at the Riocentro.