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Last Updated: Friday, 3 August 2007, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Beijing swansong

By David Garrido
BBC Sport

In August 2004, the emotions were mixed - Great Britain were celebrating an Olympic silver medal in the badminton mixed doubles in Athens, but they had been just four points away from gold.

Nathan Robertson and Gail Emms
Emms and Robertson celebrate Olympic silver in 2004
Gail Emms and Nathan Robertson let an 11-8 lead slip in the deciding game of their thrilling 93-minute final, and China's Zhang Jun and Gao Ling ended up on the top step of the podium.

Three years on, and with the 2008 Beijing Games on the horizon, Emms and Robertson's focus is sharper than ever.

There would be no sweeter revenge than beating the now top-ranked Chinese pair, Zheng Bo and Gao, in their own backyard, especially as they have failed to do so in three meetings so far this season.

"We've come the closest (to beating them), we've had match point against them, every time we play them we learn something," said Emms.

It would be the perfect Olympic swansong for the 30-year-old, who announced earlier this year that Beijing will be her last major event.

Despite the lure of playing in front of a home crowd in 2012, Emms is adamant she won't be persuaded into a Steve Redgrave-style U-turn, and would instead prefer some sort of ambassadorial role for the London Games.

"Ask me with a year to go, but I don't think I could put myself through another four years' training!" she said.

Gail Emms and Nathan Robertson in action
"I'd like to think I could still compete at the highest level (in 2012) but once Gail's gone, it'll be difficult to find a different partner

Nathan Robertson

It leaves Robertson in a quandary after Beijing, having to decide whether to start a new partnership after what will be seven years with Emms.

Although she joked "he'll be trading me in for a younger model", Robertson too will be 35 by the time London comes around.

The decision rests primarily on whether he feels he can still mix it with the very best.

"I'd like to think I could still compete at the highest level at that time," he said, "but obviously I'm in a mixed doubles partnership with Gail, and once she's gone, it'll be difficult to find a different player to play with."

The pair have a good opportunity to size up the opposition in the next couple of weeks, as they travel to Kuala Lumpur to contest the World Championships.

Unsurprisingly, China are favourites to sweep the board, and if Emms and Robertson again fall short of victory against Zheng and Gao, at least there's a year to try and close the gap.

As for the long-term future, Badminton England chief executive Adrian Christy has recently unveiled an ambitious blueprint to make England the top playing nation in the world by 2016.

Ones to watch in particular include Gabby White and Chris Adcock, both of whom are on a mentoring scheme for selected British athletes ahead of 2012.

Christy said: "The talent is there, as well as the infrastructure - the first test is in 2010, when we're aiming to be the best in Europe."

In this too, Emms and Robertson still have a major role to play.

A double World and Olympic success would certainly lay the foundations and go a long way towards inspiring youngsters to take up the mantle - arguably, that is the greatest legacy they could ever leave.

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