Badminton: Robertson and Emms reach summit
Monday 14 March 2005
Ten minutes after the mixed-doubles final at the All England Championships had ended here, the queue of exuberant young autograph hunters waiting for the new champions already numbered more than 200. Behold - the "Nathan Robertson and Gail Emms Effect".
Britain's Olympic silver medallists yesterday became the first home winners in badminton's version of Wimbledon since 1999, as they defeated the unseeded Danish pairing of Thomas Laybourn and Kamilla Rytter Juhl, 15-10, 15-12. It was a victory which established them clearly as the world's No 1 pairing, and which - more pertinently for the body about to re-launch itself as Badminton England (motto: "Play it. Love it. Live it") - further raised their sport's profile following the exploits in Athens.
Inexplicably, given the coverage they had extended to this telegenic couple last summer, the BBC was not at the National Indoor Arena to capture the euphoria of an occasion witnessed by just under 5,000 Union Jack-waving supporters. The Beeb will broadcast the fashioned-for-TV English Masters on 1 April - but its absence here cast it in the role of fool.
For those who had witnessed for themselves history occurring in a tournament established in 1899, however, such matters were immaterial.
Among those waiting for their audience with the pair were 35 members of the Worksop Falcons Badminton Club. "We came last year, but this year was even better," club member Amy Greasby said.
Meanwhile, a party from the William Beamont school in Warrington was making its excitable appearance in the Arena corridor. "It was a big plus to see Nathan and Gail in the final, because so many of the children had seen them on television during the Olympics," teacher Helen Foxley said.
If the result was gratifying for the organisers, it was hardly less so for a couple who had never really cracked it on home territory. "This tournament is something that's in every English player's heart," said Emms, who had shrugged off the effects of a cold in a week in which she and her partner had seen off opposition from South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand. "Everyone wants to win it. I've been coming to watch it since I was a girl. To see the great names of the previous winners, and to think your name is joining them, is just fantastic. It's surreal."
Robertson, who greeted the decisive point with a prodigious leap before vaulting the advertising boards to embrace the pair's coach, Andy Wood, was equally dazed in victory. "This is the win that means everything in the badminton world," he said, sweeping back his hair. "There's no doubt about that. The All-England is the biggest tournament you can win in badminton apart from the world championships."
That event, which will seek to attract the enduring attention of a US audience when it takes place in Anaheim in August, is the next big thing on their agenda. But, as Robertson acknowledged, there are no limits to their ambitions now.
"We are young enough to try again for the Olympics, so our aim is for an Olympic gold," he said. "We want to win every time we step on to a court."
It was a triumph witnessed by both sets of parents - even though Emms appeared ambivalent about that circumstance. "My parents were shouting, 'Come on, Gail!'," she said with a grin. "I felt like saying 'Shut up! I can hear you right in my ear'."
Autographs awaited. And after that - champagne. "I'll limit myself to three bottles," Robertson said. "You mean three magnums," Emms said.
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