My own goal

THE British badminton player finished last year as one half of the world's No 1 mixed doubles pairing. That partnership with the exciting Dane Michael Sogaard has recently split up. As she prepares for this week's English national championships in Norwich, Gowers recalls an earlier alliance . . .
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The Independent Online
INDIA can be a charming country but the climate can make it fairly difficult for strangers to the place to play any sport. Badminton is no exception and in the autumn of 1993 it almost never got played at all. The World Cup was taking place in New Delhi in an old, round concrete stadium with masses of steep tiered seating. My partner at that time was the Swede Peter Axelsson and we arrived at the last of our group matches needing to win to qualify for the knock-out stages.

It was a very big game for us and we were pretty nervous. The first set was pretty tight, 7-6, when it happened. There was water all over the hall. It was towards the end of the monsoon season and water was cascading through the roof and the sides of theold building. There were several courts in play but they all had to stop. Some people packed up in mid-point, everybody else in mid-game. It was almost laughable as the organisers tried to find dry spaces where they might be able to draw lines for a court.

Then it rained again. This time water came down the seating like a waterfall. There was only one sport possible to play in that New Delhi hall then and it wasn't badminton. Play was suspended until the following day and there was a real chance by now that the tournament wouldn't be finished if it rained again. But it dried out.

Unfortunately, so had we. The nerves started again; we were terrible. Maybe it was the same for the opposition but they were in a position where they had already qualified. We didn't win another point in that first set. But by then at least we had warmedup again and managed to hold on to win the next two sets and the match. As bad breaks go, it worked out pretty well.

Whether what's happening now proves to be a bad break or an error of judgement remains to be seen but they are pretty difficult days. After Peter Axelsson and I stopped playing together I was without a partner for a while. I looked down the lists at one tournament and Michael Sogaard was spare. He agreed to play with me and we hit it off immediately. We won the Taiwan Open last year and and our complementary styles helped us to get to No 1 in the rankings.

But badminton is now an Olympic sport and I was going to lose any funding I had unless I agreed to partner another Briton. It was a very, very hard decision to make, not least because I'm trying to make my living out of this. But after a lot of complications and toing and froing and apparently changed minds, Michael and I have now played our last tournament together. I paid all my own expenses to play with him to keep my word. We reached the semi-finals of this year's Taiwan competition and had to pull out in Korea when I got laryngitis.

In future I'll play with Chris Hunt of Lancashire. He's improved a lot and I think it could work but it's difficult to say we'll be No 1 or have as much tournament success. But it's got to be done. I can only hope now that it doesn't turn out to be the wrong move.

It has all been a bit upsetting and it's not as though after the Olympic Games Michael and I could get together again. The British Badminton Association has banned our players from pairing up with those from other countries if you want to be considered for Games teams. They say it hinders progress. I'm not exactly ecstatic about this but I chose to put my country first.

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