Emms and Robertson close on medal as Korean favourites fall

Four miles from the Panathinaiko Stadium and the Olympic marathon finish line, the blonde, pony-tailed Bedford woman produced an impressive late surge to move within sight of a medal. Not for the last time this week, it is to be hoped.

Six days before Paula Radcliffe's date with destiny on the road from Marathon to the original Olympic Stadium in Athens, Gail Emms yesterday manoeuvred herself - and her mixed doubles partner, Nathan Robertson - into contention for a place on the badminton podium in the Goudi Olympic Hall, little more than a racket-swipe from the 22-mile mark on the women's marathon course.

Like the golden girl of British athletics, Emms happens to hail from Bedford. "I went to Dame Alice School; Paula went to Charnbrooke," she said. Both are graduates of Loughborough University, too: Emms in sports science, Radcliffe in European languages.

Whatever it might be that the university and Bedfordshire Education Authority have done for them, the British Olympic Association has reason to be grateful. When it came to the crunch in the quarter-finals yesterday, the feisty Emms summoned the same kind of doggedness that has pulled Radcliffe through to many a famous victory.

Emms and Robertson, the Little and Large of badminton (she 5ft 4in, he 6ft 2in), had little trouble in securing the first game of their encounter with the Chinese sixth seeds, Chen Qiqui and Zhao Tingting, 15-8. Within sight of victory at 13-8 up in the second game, though, Robertson was guilty of taking his eye off the shuttlecock. "I started to think about the next round, which is the biggest mistake you can make," he later confessed. "Gail was strong enough at the end to bring me through." "I kept telling him to keep fighting, to keep working," Emms said. "Just kicked his ass, basically."

It did the trick. Having slipped behind, to 13-14, the fourth seeds took the second game 17-15 and with it the match, Robertson flinging his racket and his headband into the air in celebration.

The Britons do not have a place on the podium just yet, although their prospects of making it to the top or the second step improved immeasurably when the number one seeds, Kim Dong Moon and Ra Kyung Min, suffered a stunning knock-out blow in the third quarter-final. Unbeaten for 12 months and overwhelming favourites going into the competition, the South Koreans found themselves overwhelmed by Jonas Rasmussen and Rikke Olsen, the Danish seventh seeds winning in straight games, 17-14, 15-8.

It leaves Emms, who later advanced to the last 16 of the women's doubles with Donna Kellogg, and Robertson facing familiar rivals from the Danish League - in which they compete as members of the Hvidore club - for a place in Thursday's final and a guaranteed Olympic medal. Should they lose their semi-final tomorrow, they would still have a 50-50 chance of a podium place in the winner-takes-all bronze medal match.

For Tracey Hallam, however, there will be no medal in the women's singles. After upsetting the Sydney silver medallist Camilla Martin on Sunday, the underdog suffered a bit of a mauling in her quarter-final, losing 11-0, 11-9 to Mia Audina of the Netherlands.

Elia Tripp and Joanne Wright made it to the last 16 of the women's doubles with a hard-fought straight-sets victory over Bulgaria's Petya Nedelcheva and Neli Boteva. The unseeded British pairing were pushed all the way in a first set which lasted a shade under half an hour but, urged on by vocal support, they found their stride in the second to seal the tie 17-15 17-14.

Next in their sights are the Dutch fifth seeds Lotte Bruil and Mia Audina, and a match like today's was the ideal preparation to face a pairing they have never beaten.

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