OLYMPIC fever was rife at Loughton Lodge on Monday when Team GB’s badminton hopefuls set off for their London 2012 base.
Chris Adcock, Imogen Bankier and Rajiv Ouseph all call Milton Keynes their home, but they will be swapping the roundabouts and grid roads for the Olympic Village for the next two weeks while they embark on the biggest challenge of their careers – a home Games.
The National Badminton Centre has been the breeding ground for the sport’s leading professionals for many a year, and London 2012 offers one of the best chances for the British hopefuls to write their names into the history books, with the competition getting underway this Saturday.
Adcock, 23, moved to MK from Leicester three years ago to hone his skills as one of Europe’s best players ready for the Games. He will be competing alongside Bankier in the Mixed Doubles, having qualified ahead of Nathan Robertson and Jenny Wallwork.
Adcock and Bankier won silver at the World Championships in London last year, but face top seeds Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei in the group stages in London.
After losing out to them in the World Championships final, Adcock and Bankier have since beaten the Chinese duo twice in their last three encounters.
And with Wembley Arena once again playing host to the world’s badminton stars, Adcock is hoping for a repeat performance, but this time going one better and winning Olympic gold on Friday, August 3.
He said: “The whole atmosphere and buzz that has been around this country over the last year building up to the Olympics has been just fantastic, and I can’t wait to put on a GB shirt and walk out in front of a home crowd in my home Olympics. For me, the best thing about London 2012, is London.
“The home crowds, the friends and family will create such a buzz. We had a taste of this at last year’s World Championships when we won silver. It was the same venue and we had the home crowd behind us.
“I believe that if I perform to the very best of my ability – with the crowd behind me – that I can get a medal of any colour at London, and have shown that at the World Championships.
“The support we’ve had from the National Lottery has been fantastic and has enabled us to train full time at the National Badminton Centre in Milton Keynes and I’m extremely grateful for that – so keep buying those tickets.
“The support there is out of this world. Everyone from the coaches, physiotherapists, nutritionists and staff, as well as family and friends, have been unbelievable and I could not have asked for more.”
Adcock’s playing partner Bankier, 24, didn’t have much of an Olympic dream until eight years ago when she shared the nation’s pride in watching Gail Emms and Robertson win silver in Athens, and has used that image to inspire her.
“To think I’m going to be a part of the Olympics is a great thought,” said Bankier, who moved to MK from Glasgow.
“It’s great to have a home Games. I can’t wait to be there, it’s so exciting. The whole country is getting behind it. It’s the biggest sporting event in the world and to be part of that is a great feeling.
“The pinnacle of every athlete’s career is to play in the Olympics. There is a real passion among all athletes because everyone wants that gold medal.
“Wembley Arena sold out very quickly so that says something about the demand for badminton.”
Rajiv Ouseph recently moved from Hounslow to Milton Keynes to train at the National Badminton Centre.
His success in the singles format has seen him rise up to 25th in the world rankings, but he’s hoping to exceed expectation in the biggest competition of his life.
“A home advantage will be a big thing,” Ouseph said. “Having the crowd on your side can give you a big boost and inspire you to give an extra few percent which could make all the difference.
“There is going to be a lot of expectation on some of the home players, but if you can turn that into performance then more people will get behind you and it will hopefully have a knock on effect for all GB badminton players.
“The Centre is a great place to train and has given us all the preparation we could need over the Olympic qualifying year.
“There is a good luck message board at the Centre with hundreds of good luck messages on which have been submitted.
“It’s great to see the support and the country getting behind us.”