Adcock targets badminton golds at London 2012
Matt Ogborn @mattogborn
Badminton has a curious reputation: the time between frenetic childhood games and middle-age lethargy seemingly devoid of serious combat.
That might be about to change with the new wave of British stars aiming for London 2012 gold looking to inspire the masses.
Derek Talbot and Gillian Gilks combined in the mixed doubles to win gold at the 1972 Olympics; however, the sport was only deemed a demonstration event.
We had to wait another 28 years to see another Briton on the podium – two, in fact – as Simon Archer and Joanne Goode dug deep in the same discipline to grab a bronze in Sydney after being edged out during their semi-final clash against Indonesian pair Tri Kusharyanto and Minarti Timur.
Four years later, the photogenic pairing of Nathan Robertson and Gail Emms flirted with the ultimate sporting dream, only to lose out in a three-set final thriller to China’s Zhang Jun and Gao Ling. With nothing to show for their efforts in Beijing, Team GB is doubly determined to shine on the home courts of Wembley Arena in July next year.
One man in particular appears to have run into form at exactly the right time. He is Leicester-born doubles specialist Chris Adcock.
Whether he is partnered with Imogen Bankier in the mixed doubles or Andrew Ellis in the men’s doubles, Adcock brings a potent combination of speed, power and touch to the court. So much so, that it is not entirely out of the question that we could see the Nottingham resident fighting for gold in both disciplines when the Olympic finals take place on 3 August (mixed) and 5 August (men’s).
When you take into account the fact that Adcock and Bankier spurned match points to finish with silver at the World Championships in London earlier this year and that his partnership with Ellis has seen off the reigning Olympic champions, then the odds get shorter by the day.
I spoke with the 22-year-old after he had just returned from a gruelling three-tournament spin that put further fear into the hearts and minds of his London 2012 opponents.
Adcock said: “We have just got back from three weeks of crazy tournament play in Denmark, France and Germany. One of the highlights has to be in France, where Andrew and I beat the current Olympic champions [Indonesia’s Markis Kido and Hendra Setiawan], so that was really good.
“We played well the whole tournament and, actually, in the next round, we were winning quite heavily then somehow managed to lose [to Japanese pair Hirokatsu Hashimoto and Noriyasu Hirata].”
Targets need to be set in sport to push on to the next level and Adcock revealed that the vanquishing of the Beijing gold-medallists meant mission accomplished – in the men’s doubles at least.
He continued: “One of the targets was to push the Olympic champs close and we believed we could beat them on the day. We take one game at a time, but we know we need to achieve a certain amount of results in these tournaments because it is such a busy period, so it was a good trip. We just have to put in the back-to-back performances now.”
Left-hander Adcock used to be paired with Scot Rob Blair, but a switch to Leeds right-hander Ellis seems to be paying dividends this year, while the longer Bankier partnership also goes from strength to strength.
Adcock added: “It is good to have a little bit of a name for ourselves now, but it is obviously a lot of added pressure. We have responded to it quite well. I think if people are worrying about what I’m doing instead of what they are doing, it is always a positive.
“There are not many of the top 20 in the world that we haven’t played in men’s doubles or mixed, so it’s very much a tactical battle about who can be better on the day. In both partnerships, we feel that if we all play our best, there is nobody in the world that we can’t beat. It is becoming more and more apparent that we are both forces; we are taking big names down and becoming one of the big names ourselves.”
Even though it is clear to see that Adcock is a phenomenally driven young man, he was quick to hail the backroom team that allow him, Bankier and Ellis to give their all when the shuttlecock comes into play.
He revealed: “I have always had that self-belief, but I can’t give enough credit to the support staff. Not just the coaches at Badminton England, but the people that don’t often get seen such as the physios, strength conditioners and psychologists. If we achieve or perform, it’s down to these guys.
“It’s very evident that everyone seems to be doing their job well and moving along smoothly. A lot of people have misconceptions about what sport psychology is. They think it’s all ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that’, whereas you should look at it as taking the strengths you’ve got and making them better.”
When pushed on what he brings to both partnerships, Adcock explained: “Imogen and I have got a traditional style of mixed. She plays the net very well and I run around the back trying to get the attacks to put on the floor. Not so much power, but a lot of speed.
“Whereas me and Andy are very much a speed-and-power game. We have also got the little touches and different styles we can move into, which is why we are becoming a more recognised pair.”
Asian pairs have a long history of excellence in doubles badminton; nevertheless, Adcock is adamant that his two partnerships have bridged the gap both in terms of skills and results.
He claimed: “I think the game is becoming more rounded. The Asians have been traditionally stronger, faster and fitter in the past, but definitely myself and Andy are one of the fastest and strongest pairs in the world and, again, in mixed, we use our speed very, very well.”
Competition for Team GB spots is also intense, something Adcock attributes to the rise in standard.
He said: “Competition is always the starting block to improve and, obviously, the main thing is to get that rivalry in training. In the mixed doubles, we have three GB pairs in the world top 20 and, in the men’s doubles, there are two pairs at the minute due to the recent retirement of Anthony Clark.”
It is back in the schools, though, where the shoots of further recovery need to be developed carefully, and Adcock knows full well the importance of maintaining the high standard of coaching he once received.
He declared: “I think the standard is improving no end. In my school, we always played it. I handed out the trophies at the finals a few years ago and it’s brilliant in the way it’s being pushed forward. Everyone is really excited and it gives us a whole new buzz.”
Allied to that buzz is the incredible atmosphere guaranteed by the home crowd next summer, especially in the wake of the recent World Championships, where the roof was nearly lifted clean off in the mixed final.
Adcock enthused: “When we walked out when our names were called, it was spine-tingling. The only way it could have got better was if we had won! You can never get that feeling back unless you are put back in that same position and, hopefully in a year’s time, we can be in that position. Anything can happen with the home crowd behind you.
“The amount of comments after people see badminton on TV at the Worlds or Olympics is like a surprise element. It’s like when people watch Wimbledon on TV, everyone will then go out and book a court afterwards. Hopefully, it will be the same for us and have that effect.”
Adcock will not get much time to watch his football team Chelsea in the coming months as the Olympic qualifying period does not end until April. In the quest to be the best, focus comes first.
He said: “I’ve got about nine or 10 tournaments left in qualifying until the end of April, so still quite a busy period. We have Hong Kong and China coming up, which are crucial.
“It is never easy in an Olympic qualifying year, because it is so long. It is always very draining mentally and physically. It’s just about keeping up the level, getting good results and making sure you are fit and strong enough when you get a chance to train.”
If Adcock maintains the type of form he has displayed in 2011 across both badminton disciplines, then London 2012 cannot come soon enough.
Center Parcs is an official partner of BADMINTON England supporting England’s players from grass roots through to the elite level, as they strive to become the best in the world. For more info, please visit www.centerparcs.co.uk
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