BORN IN HITCHIN and now living in Milton Keynes, visits to Leeds are rare for Olympic badminton medallist Gail Emms.
The former Games star, will, however, visit the city next month for a business meeting which in reality Emms admits is a Headingley pub crawl.
If Emms is right with her hopes and predictions, the city will also provide her sport’s next Olympic medallist in Gabby Adcock.
Emms was 27 when partnering Nathan Robertson to take a mixed doubles silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics – an achievement which remains Team GB’s last badminton medal of any kind.
But the 2004 heroine has reason to believe that 25-year-old Garforth smasher Adcock can now follow in her footsteps when partnering husband Chris in the same event 12 years on. Team GB has yet to announce its official team for this summer’s Rio Olympics but the Adcocks are guaranteed a place on the plane to South America given that they are ranked comfortably inside the world’s top eight.
The husband and wife duo are currently the seventh best mixed doubles pair on the planet, six places behind China’s dominant world no 1 force of Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei.
A top-three placing is now the holy grail in South America and Emms is clinging to genuine hope that the Leeds star can help achieve it ahead of her visit to Adcock’s city through a combination of business and pleasure.
“The mixed doubles is very, very open this year,” Emms told the YEP. “Six to eight months ago I would have said I think there’s three pairs that will definitely get the medals.
“Now, I’m so confused that I have no idea and that, for them, is a good thing.
“They are ranked either sixth or seventh in the world, it changes a lot all the time and there’s still the Chinese pair that I think will get silver or gold. But the other two are up for grabs, I really do think that and I think that Chris and Gabby are starting to believe that as well. If you’d have asked them a year ago they would have been like ‘well, you never know, the competition is a class above.’
“But I think now because it’s so all over the place and people are winning here, there and everywhere, that can only boost their confidence so I will put it out there and say they have got a chance for a medal.”
Emms and Robertson were ranked fourth heading to Athens 12 years ago and benefitted from the shock defeat of the world no 1 Korean pair in the quarter-finals.
The Adcocks will have more on their plate given that they are ranked three places lower than Emms and Robertson were and the duo’s chance to seal an all important top four ranking which would have guaranteed a seeding looks to have gone.
The world no 7 pair suffered an early exit from March’s German Open which the duo were specifically targeting, but Emms says the duo can take massive confidence from reaching the semi-finals of the same month’s All England Open, especially having been knocked out at the quarter-final stage in previous years.
“The All England was a good one for them,” said Emms.
“They have had two good results, what I would say, for them, are very good results.
“They won a Super Series in December and they got to the semi-final of the All England and the All England is a tough one, especially when you are English because everyone just wants you to win it and it’s so much pressure.
“They had been beaten in the quarter-final stage for the last few years and suddenly they made that step up and they got through to the semi-finals.
“For them, this is a morale boost.
“They didn’t have a great game in the semi-finals – a better pair beat them – but it’s one more on the journey. Anyone who is in the top eight is knocking on the door in mixed doubles and it literally just will be three out of that top eight. We were ranked fourth so we had an outside chance of the bronze medal but a few little things went our way.
“The Korean pair that pretty much had never lost for three years decided to lose in the quarter-final of the Olympic Games which was unheard of.
“This is what sport does and the Olympics can bring out crazy results – there’s always an underdog and the favourite may bottle it, and that’s what Chris and Gabby have got to really capitalise on. If they play their best they are very, very good.
“Chris and Gabby are probably sick and tired of being compared to me and Nathan so they are probably thinking ‘please let’s win a medal!’ Then no-one is going to talk about comparing Gabby to Gail and Chris to Nathan.
“Then we are thinking ‘we have been retired for a long time now, can someone please take over!’If they do, I will be the first person to give them a big hug when they get back.”
It would also be a fair bet that Emms would be commentating on such an achievement as her plans this summer include working for Radio 5 Live and Eurosport on their coverage of Rio.
In the meantime, the former silver medallist has been a recent guest on A Question Of Sport and is now preparing to climb the Atlas Mountains and 3 Peaks for charity.
All this whilst being a young mum to six-year-old Harry and three-year-old Oliver.
There is, though, still time for a good old fashioned pub crawl for recently qualified business coach Emms – who is not even attempting to package next month’s Headingley visit as a business meeting.
“I’m coming up to Leeds on May 19!” beamed an exciting Emms. “It’s like a networking event with some friends of mine but they are calling it mid-summer May madness and basically I think it’s a bit of a pub crawl through Leeds. If anyone sees me and I am wobbling then prop me up a little bit. I think it must be in Headingley but all I know is I have just been given a time and a place to meet.
“But I don’t think I’ll see Gabby, not in Headingley. If I do see her in Headingley drinking in the day then I will be sending her right back home.”