Stint in Indian League readies Kirsty Gilmour for medal tilt
Making her Commonwealth Games debut back in 2010, having just turned 17, the Olympian has gone on to participate on the biggest stages and admits that with every year that passes, the pressure to deliver increases.
“The feeling has changed 100 per cent. My first games in Delhi, I played all three events –singles, doubles and mixed – and it was about being on court in that pressurised, multi-sport environment for as much time as possible, regardless of the event.
“Then in Glasgow I played two events – singles and doubles – and found myself with a medal. Now in Gold Coast I’m only playing the singles, so it’s become increasingly pressurised each time and I feel the expectation on my shoulders has built each time.
“I had zero expectation in Delhi – I was there for experience and fun. Glasgow I was seeded second in the singles but I had the back-up of doubles, and now I have one shot at it. One shot at replicating or going one better than I did in Glasgow. So the pressure has grown as I have.” She knows the magnitude of the task but history and valuable time served with the team psychologist mean she is confident in her ability to handle the expectations.
“I actually think I’ve thrived in pressure situations. My track record in the big events is good. So I’m using all that experience, good and bad, to build towards Gold Coast.”
The women’s singles event kicked off today and, according to Gilmour, who was the first Scottish women to reach a Commonwealth badminton final, finishing the last Games with a silver medal, the calibre of the field is even higher than four years ago.
“It’s tougher. One of the top Indian girls didn’t compete in Glasgow so I’d say right now there are five or six of us competing for the three medals. But, having said that, I feel like I’m a better player than I was four years ago as well, so it’ll be a really interesting Games and a lot of it will come down to the draw.”
Seeded fourth, the Glasgow player has been placed in the same half of the draw as second seed Saina Nehwal of India. PV Sindhu and 2014 gold medallist Michelle Li are in the other side of proceedings. It makes life slightly easier for Gilmour, who knows what the world’s best are capable of.
The European silver medallist in 2016 and 2017, she says the three weeks she recently spent competing in the Indian League has been crucial in catapulting her development ahead of these Games. Signed up by the Bengaluru Blasters, she earned cash and invaluable court time against the sport’s elite.
“It was the best three weeks of my life, honestly. In terms of development, in terms of being in a team atmosphere, getting six or seven matches against top-20 girls.
“If I go to a tournament and play well, you maybe get one or two games against the really top girls but to get those games back to back was huge for me, because I don’t really have girls to train with here.
“I played against two of my main competitors, one of the Indian girls in particular who’ll probably be top seed and I took her to three sets. That was key for me.
“I’d do the Indian League again in a heartbeat. It was an eye-opener for people here about the impact the sport has in Asia when I was posting on social media about it. We were playing in front of about 4,000 but in badminton you can’t have too huge an arena because the sport is so intricate, so it has to be kept quite intimate.
“But it was still really great. We don’t get that sense here. Once every few years at the Olympics maybe, but over there it’s like the Premier League week in week out. It’s their sporting event, the players are their equivalent of football teams in terms of support.”