At just 18 year’s of age the lure of a home Olympic Games was what drove Imogen Bankier to be the outstanding player she is now, with an impressive record that includes World silver medallist, European bronze medallist and 11 times Scottish Champion. But after a six year commitment to the British programme and a disappointing end to her Olympic dream, Bankier is back in Scotland and determined to reap her just rewards at Glasgow 2014.
“I was part of the successful GB programme for six years based at Milton Keynes and everything was leading towards London 2012″, says Bankier. “However I just didn’t feel things went our way and it was a huge disappointment. After the Games I really struggled to get on board with the GB plans for Rio and I wanted the chance to focus on Commonwealth Games for a couple of years before all guns blazing towards the next Olympics.”
“So I decided that coming back to Scotland would be a good move for me, where I could still train at a high level and really prepare for Glasgow 2014 in the way I wanted to. This did mean leaving the British programme and giving up my very successful partnership with Englishman Chris Adcock which was a shame, but it was the right thing to do.”
Imogen is now training for two hours, twice a day, five days a week at the National Badminton Academy at Scotstoun, venue at Games time for Squash and Table Tennis, and she is enjoying giving the men’s squad a run for their money.
“The training back here is really good, we have a great training facility and good support staff. The training for me is brilliant and I get to spar against the men on a daily basis which will be very good for my game. The new Commonwealth Games venues are coming on stream and there is a great atmosphere amongst all the athletes in the build-up which is brilliant to be a part of, and I would have missed this if I had stayed down south.”
Now in the hunt for a new mixed doubles partner, she is determined to take her time and find the right ingredients to create another winning combination. Potential candidates include Robert Blair, also a World silver medallist, who has also recently returned to the Scottish fold following a period representing England. Last month they had a notable victory winning the French International title.
“I have tried out a couple of new partnerships for mixed doubles and we have been quite successful but nothing is set in stone as there is still time before qualifying begins. I am also playing women’s doubles with a Bulgarian partner which is a new venture for me as I only concentrated on mixed previously and I am enjoying the new challenge which is good.”
So what was it about the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow that attracted her home to Scotland?
“Commonwealth Games will be massive. To have a Games in your home city is pretty special. I have already seen with the Olympics, just how much the nation was captivated and got behind us. I think that in Scotland we really enjoy our sport, so the atmosphere will be really special.”
“London was the most successful Olympic Games of all time and that wasn’t by chance. It was down to the way the public got behind the team and it is important that the Scottish public supports Team Scotland and spurs them on to winning more medals.”
“I think that we can also have a legacy from 2014 and it is one of the most important things for me. If somebody can watch us play badminton and be inspired to pick up a racket and try the sport and get involved whether it is in their garden or by joining a club, then its job done.”
Imogen is in the thick of the Sudirman Cup World Mixed Team Championships in Kuala Lumpur this week (19-26 May). So far Scotland’s campaign is going well with early round victories over Russia and the USA giving them a commanding lead in Group 2A and auguring well for their progression through the group stages.
Looking forward Imogen said: “I am not sure if I have qualified for the World Championships in August yet, but either way I will have a wee break after that before the competition season starts again in September. The focus will then be fully on Commonwealth Games qualifying, and it will be pretty busy getting ready for the Games.”
Whilst there is still over 12 months to go, what is clear, is that Imogen will do everything within her power to ensure she isn’t disappointed with her “home Games” experience second time around.
You can follow Imogen on Twitter @imogenbankier
Photo Credit: Badminton Scotland