In the second of our series of articles and accompanying videos in association with Virgin Money Giving, the 100% not-for-profit website, Olympians Gail Emms and Becky James traded stories about how they reached the top in their respective sports. Here, their parents, Jan Emms and David James, offer their personal insights into the making of two champions
Oh, she was stubborn as anything – Jan Emms, mother of badminton player Gail
Even though I played in the World Cup finals in Mexico in 1971, I always loved badminton. Women’s football in those days was just regarded as a joke. Boys used to watch and shout: “Show us yer tits.” To be honest, the standard was far below that of today. So as there was a super badminton club in Bedford, I played there, too. Gail came with me. Even as a baby I’d noticed she had good hand-eye coordination. So from the age of four we gave her a sawn-down racket and threw shuttlecocks at her. Back and forward for hours. When she was about twelve or thirteen she beat me for the first time.
I taught her to make sure she gave 100 per cent every time and she was always very, very, very feisty. The teenage years were pretty horrendous, but there was never any strops or racket throwing on court. Etiquette’s important. But, oh, she was as stubborn as anything. Knew it all. Couldn’t bear to lose. Competitive. Then she was also driven, determined and hard-working.
Watching her at the Olympics, I was an absolute gibbering wreck. But the excitement in Athens when she won silver – and she and Nathan were only four points from the gold – was fantastic. My husband and I were staying in a villa on a tiny Greek Island just a short sea taxi ride from Athens, but so great were the celebrations that night we missed it and I have absolutely no idea where we stayed instead. Four years later we were in Beijing where they were knocked out by the No1 seeds. But your daughter, a double Olympian – I’ll treasure those memories for the rest of my life.
Gail always says in interviews: “I looked up to my mum”, and that makes me feel really nice. It took her a long time to realise how proud she made me.
She’s competitive, but very caring and considerate too – David James, father of cyclist Becky
All our kids are very independent. They had to be because when Bethan, our third youngest daughter, came along she was born with a number of special needs. The family was under incredible pressure and for the first couple of years it was a blur, to be honest. Becky was so caring with her younger sisters. She looked after the youngest one, Megan, like a little mum. I remember her carrying round Megan all the time. Yes, she was competitive, because she loved sport, but she was very caring and considerate, too.
Really the cycling was partly my fault. There was a time in 2001 when Bethan needed to be in hospital in Bristol for a whole summer. We decided that Christine, my wife, would stay home with all the kids – Rachel, Gareth, Becky, Ffion and Megan – and I would stay at the hospital with Bethan. There was a bike shop opposite the hospital and because I couldn’t be under the doctors’ feet the whole time, I bought myself a decent bike and went for ride around the streets occasionally. It helped during a time that was quite tough. I took the bike home with me when Bethan was released from hospital and, well, one thing led to another. Now all the kids compete in different types of events and Christine finished runner-up in the over-50’s national mountain bike championships in 2012
The kids have all been very independent because they had to look after themselves. Becky started work at 11 – along with Gareth – as a washer-upper in a friend’s pub. Rachel was already there as a waitress to save up for her showjumping. Becky and Gareth would work until the early hours of Sunday morning and then get up and go racing. Becky was mature from a very young age – and really into her baking. Half the time these days her Twitter feed is one long mass of cake.
I haven’t watched the films or read the newspapers about Rio. I’ve got my memories of being there – surreal and very emotional – and I just want to save them that way. For Christine and I it was the first time we’d gone abroad together on a flight for 29 years. We made lots of friends at the Velodrome and in Rio. It was unforgettable.
We’re so proud of Becky, especially because what she displays is her enjoyment of sport. So many people focus entirely on winning. There’s so much more and Becky exemplifies that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sue Mott is an award-winning sport journalist who has worked on radio, TV and the written press. Sue’s latest articles