From Olympic heroine to (wannabee) domestic goddess

Gail Emms’s life used to revolve around a four-yearly cycle as an utterly committed Olympian. Now her focus is much shorter-term: how long does it take to cook fish fingers and how can she stop her sons’ squabbling? Oh, and how much longer do these school summer holidays last? It’s not our athletes in Rio who deserve medals, she says, but the women battling ‘normal’ life back at home

Rio has started! Woo hoo! Team GB are out in force, Adam Peaty has won our first gold medal and lifted the nation. The British public are slowly but surely getting behind the fact that there have to be Games after London 2012, and football is off the back pages of the newspapers for the next two weeks.
So you’d think as an ex-Olympian I would have the Union Flags out, the old tracksuit on, and a schedule of the sports activities pinned to the wall so no sporting action is missed. Then I can cheer on the next generation of sporting gods and goddesses as I reminisce and share that Olympic journey with them …

Well, no, that’s not the case. There are no GB flags out … just washing hanging everywhere trying to dry (usually kids’ sporting kit and odd socks). The Rio timetable is actually a day-to-day planner filled with play dates, children’s birthday parties and grocery shopping. And if I tried to get my old GB tracksuit on? I’m afraid I wouldn’t get the top over my baby belly, and the bottoms certainly won’t go over the hips that store my new love of wine and chocolate.

You see, my life used to revolve around the Olympics. Every day I would wake up and think about my dream: to walk around the Olympic Village and win an Olympic medal for Great Britain. I watched Sally Gunnell in Barcelona as a 15 year old and that was the lightbulb moment when I realised I wanted to be an Olympian. She was incredible to watch: a fantastic, strong, female role model. To have a goal and a dream at that age was empowering and liberating. My self-confidence grew and it made the training seem easier and more enjoyable.

However, my goals right at this moment are:

1) To get through the school summer holidays with my sanity intact;
2) Not to shout so loud when trying to diffuse an argument between my kids Harry, six, and Ollie, three, that my neighbours can hear;
3) Stop eating the kids’ leftover fish fingers and chips … or chicken nuggets … or, indeed, anything they leave;
4) Work out a way to start a petition to get the school summer holidays shorter;
5) Did I mention how much I really don’t like the school summer holidays?

In moments of reflection, when the kids are in bed and I have a glass of wine and I do get a chance to catch some Olympic action, I think of the time 12 years ago when I was in that moment. I was in Athens; the home of the Olympic Games, and thinking of all the sacrifices and dedication it had taken to get there. The strict eating regime, the three-times-a-day, six-days-a-week training, the ice baths, and the ups and downs of winning and losing as a sportsperson.

Now, ‘sacrifice’ is saying no to dessert or choosing a decaf coffee to be ‘healthy’. No sugar and caffeine diet? They’re the only things that keep me going in the day. I used to have muscles in my legs so powerful I could easily cut it as a James Bond villain. Now I struggle to squeeze a big core stability ball in my exercise class with the pensioners. The boiler broke the other day and a cold shower did not make me feel like an athlete again. And I really do love beating my kids at board games …

I won a silver medal in the badminton mixed doubles in 2004. So when you are watching the Rio Olympics and Paralympics over the next few weeks, and wonder in amazement about the skill, the strength, and the power of these athletes, along with the dedication, focus and sacrifice that they make to turn their dreams into reality, I can assure you now, it was a damn sight easier than ‘normal’ life today. Some days I think I earn an Olympic medal for getting the kids to places on time, walking the dogs while on a conference call, cooking, cleaning and keeping up with emails. But no one awards medals for that unfortunately!

So, here’s to all the women who take on the world, doing their bit for sport, for their kids and for friends, families and loved ones – you all deserve medals. Believe me.


Gail Emms MBE is one of Britain’s most successful badminton players, best remembered for her silver medal in the mixed doubles at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. With partner Nathan Robertson, she won gold at the World Championships in 2006, the Commonwealth Games in the same year, and the European Championships in 2004. Gail was six times national mixed doubles champion and national ladies doubles champion five times. Since retiring after the Beijing Olympic Games, Gail has been a versatile sports presenter on a variety of television and radio programmes. She was awarded the MBE for services to badminton in 2009. She is the mother of two boys. Gail’s latest articles

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