With the Rio just around the corner, attention is now turning to the Olympic Games. 12 years after her success in Athens, Gail took time out to speak to us about some of her Olympic memories and how she sees a few of the events panning out in Rio this summer.
Can Team GB recreate the successes of London?
I think Team GB have been sensible. There was an initial sense of ‘yeah, we can win just as many medals as we did in London’ but they’ve generally been quite quiet about it all. That’s the right thing to do because, if you hype it up too much, you just pile pressure on yourself and the athletes. There’s not as much funding in place as in London and Rio is going to be a very different Olympics.
It’ll be hard for the athletes to concentrate on what they’re doing – you’ve got allegations of corruption and drugs scandals in athletics, there’s a focus on Rio going over their budget and political upheaval in the country, plus the Zika virus, so I think Team GB is right to say ‘you know what, let’s just go out there and see what happens’.
Of course, things can always fall into place on the day. Sport’s great like that and predictions can go out the window, but everyone’s got to go out there and perform.
Who is your all-time Olympic hero?
There are so many but Sally Gunnell is my biggest hero. I remember watching the Barcelona Olympics in ’92 and she was the first woman I recall thinking ‘gosh, she’s incredible!’ There wasn’t a huge amount of really high profile British sportswomen at the time but, looking at her win that gold and seeing her physique, she just made me think ‘yeah, I want to go to the Olympics’ – I was good at badminton, playing at England Junior level, but she was the person that made me decide I wanted to push on to the next level. She made me want to train harder and, in a way, she gave me my Olympic dream.
I actually met her at the training camp in Cyprus before Athens and I just screamed ‘AAAAAAGGGH – I love you!’ It’s funny because I see her as a friend now but I remember watching her at Barcelona, jumping around in the lounge with my Mum, and now I can ring my heroine for a chat – it’s crazy. She definitely spurred me on when I saw her in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics.
Looking at badminton, who are Britain’s best hopes for gold?
I think the Adcocks are our best hope in the Mixed Doubles. They’ve been consistently in the world top eight for a few years now and, when they play their best, they are a match for anyone. The Mixed Doubles is very open this time round, so I think they could be dark horses for bronze. Maybe a gold is pushing it a little bit because there are so many very, very good pairs, but you never know.
Injuries, other players bottling it – if something like that happens, the Adcocks could spot their opportunity and do something special. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see but the Chinese, for example, all seem to be so mentally strong, so it’ll be a tall order for them to win it.
Badminton is your thing but which other Olympic sports do you take most interest in?
As a kid, I used to love watching absolutely everything and anything at the Olympics. Even if I didn’t know the rules, I’d just scream at the telly for anyone representing Great Britain, but nowadays I don’t always have the time, so I have to pick and choose.
I used to play a bit of hockey – I’ve got the scars to prove it – so I love watching that, especially the GB girls who are doing really well at the minute. Because it amateur, I love watching Olympic boxing live in the flesh – they’ve got great skills and there are a lot of personalities but it’s not as scary as professional boxing.
I love my athletics but, don’t get me wrong, it’s better on TV. In the stadium, I find it hard keeping track – there’s long jump over there, high jump at the other end and a sprint on my side, so I just think it’s easier on telly. The velodrome’s an exciting place but, going round and round so quickly, my neck starts to hurt, so maybe that’s better on TV too.
I like weird stuff like handball. It’s really fast-paced and rests on hand-eye co-ordination like badminton, so perhaps that’s why I like it. We don’t see very much of it all in this country but in Central Europe and places like Scandinavia, they absolutely love it.
Which sports do you see GB doing well in and which of our athletes stand out for you?
Like pretty much everyone else, I love Mo Farah and he’s achieved so much, so I want him to repeat his London feat. Adam Gemili smiles all the time, so you’ve got to love him – he’s had a tough time with injury but I’ve heard he’s doing well and could be back up to full speed in time for Rio.
In the swimming, Adam Peaty is obviously a stand-out performer and among the favourites for gold. There is perhaps a little pressure on him, so I hope he deals with it well. The GB women’s hockey team have a good shot at a medal, we always do well in the rowing and sailing and we should pick some up in the diving and the boxing.
I hope Nicola Adams does well again – she’s another smiler – and back to the track, I think we all want Jessica Ennis-Hill to perform to her best – that’d be a nice story.
Gail Emms MBE is available for personal appearances, brand endorsements and media work. To secure her services during this marvellous summer of sport, call Amelia Neate at Champions Celebrity on 08453 31 30 31or email firstname.lastname@example.org.