Robertson and Emms denied gold in classic battle

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The Independent Online

Nathan Robertson produced another enormous post-match pogo here last night, just as he had in the moment of his and partner Gail Emms' semi-final victory over their Danish opponents. This time, however, the propelling force was frustration rather than elation after seeing the mixed doubles gold medal turn tantalisingly in front of his face before being re-claimed by China's top seeds and defending champions, Zhang Jun and Gao Ling, who won 15-1, 12-15, 15-12.

Nathan Robertson produced another enormous post-match pogo here last night, just as he had in the moment of his and partner Gail Emms' semi-final victory over their Danish opponents. This time, however, the propelling force was frustration rather than elation after seeing the mixed doubles gold medal turn tantalisingly in front of his face before being re-claimed by China's top seeds and defending champions, Zhang Jun and Gao Ling, who won 15-1, 12-15, 15-12.

Silver it was - and the distraught expression on Emms' face immediately afterwards said everything about the level of expectation the British pair's inspirational performances here had generated, most of all within them.

"I was absolutely gutted," the 27-year-old from Hitchin confessed. "I hate losing, and I wasn't even thinking about this as a gold medal match. I was just going out there to win. The quarter-final was great, the semi-final was fantastic, while the final... we did everything we could but it just didn't come off on the day."

The British pair were already assured of being their country's most successful performers in Olympic badminton thanks to the previous day's victory, which meant they were bound to surpass the mixed doubles bronze earned in Sydney four years ago by Joanne Wright-Goode and Simon Archer.

But there were several moments when it looked as if they were on the brink of earning a win against opponents who had taken just 13 minutes to take the opening game.

"I think we have come here and given the performances of our lifetime," said Robertson, whose long hair, headband and sharp features give him a startling resemblance to Stuart from the most recent Channel 4 Big Brother. "That was the intention, and our reward for it is a silver medal, which we both dreamed about since we were little."

It was a match frequently interrupted by disputes, most of them set in motion by the chunky and highly emotional figure of Zhang, who was lustily booed by the large Union Jack-waving contingent doing everything they could to provide support. Zhang, who had complained to the umpire about the condition of the shuttle and then questioned a line call, admitted he had felt the pressure until Gao calmed him down. "She told me, 'Don't be too nervous, because we won the title four years ago so our opponents must feel even more pressure than we do'," he said.

"There's always lots of needle between Asian and European teams," said Robertson, who comes from Nottingham but now lives and plays in Copenhagen. "There's definitely not a lot of friendship between them. But credit to the Chinese - they played incredibly. Maybe there was a little bit of final nerves but they came out absolutely faster than us and blew us off court really. Sometimes it takes a game to get used to the pace of the Chinese. But I'm proud, extremely proud, of the way we held on after losing that first game."

The British pair played for nine minutes before they registered their single point of the opening game at 9-0 down. As the points against them racked up they appeared momentarily to be inhabiting a particularly cruel nightmare. But the second game saw them regain first their equilibrium, and then the initiative as their opponents, and most notably the volatile Zhang, who nurtures the hurt rage of a McEnroe, began to make errors.

Robertson, whose six-year-old daughter, Neve, was once again in the crowd, had predicted he would be relaxed beforehand, and he was ultimately able to live up to his words. "My realistic aim was a bronze coming here, because I didn't honestly believe that we would reach the final," he had said. "Tomorrow we can just go out and play, knowing that we've got a silver in the bag which is more than we wanted.'

In the end, truthfully, it wasn't less than they deserved, even after they had got to within four points of victory at 11-8 in the third game. Although they saved two match points, the Chinese top seeds were not to be denied.

Emms seemed to freeze at the start, raising fears that she was suffering from the Achilles tendon injury she had sustained in their quarter-final. But as the match went on, her assurance and mobility returned. "There was no question of it preventing me from playing or causing problems with my performance," she said. "This is the Olympic final and it has been my dream to get here."

While the Chinese were satisfied with a gold that moves them closer to the target they are seeking in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Games, Robertson, who is the same age as his partner, was also looking four years ahead. "We're still young enough to come back and win it," he said with a glint in his eye.

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