Glasgow 2014: Robert Blair courts further badminton Games success

By Keir MurrayBBC Sport Scotland
Robert Blair
Edinburgh's Robert Blair attended Loughborough University and won 54 caps for England after moving south
Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games
Dates: 23 July - 3 AugustCoverage: Live on BBC TV, HD, BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio Scotland, Red Button, Connected TVs, online, tablets and mobiles

Robert Blair hopes experience counts.

At 32, and 12 years after first competing in the Commonwealth Games, he is the eldest member of the Scotland badminton team for Glasgow 2014.

Indeed, of the other nine members of the team, six were still at primary school when Edinburgh-born Blair represented England at the 2002 Manchester Games.

His switch to England the year before was the result of a desire to improve his Commonwealth medal chances.

The move paid off, but not until 2006 in Melbourne where he helped England win silver in the team event and, with Anthony Clark, took bronze in the men's doubles.

It was a good year for Blair and Clark - they also won silver in the men's doubles at the World Championships and bronze at the European Championships.

Back: Robert Blair, Patrick MacHugh, Martin Campbell, Paul Van Rietvelde, Kieran Merrilees. Front: Rebekka Findlay, Kirsty Gilmour, Imogen Banker, Jillie Cooper, Caitlin Pringle
The Scotland badminton team in their Team Scotland outfits: (back) Robert Blair, Patrick MacHugh, Martin Campbell, Paul Van Rietvelde, Kieran Merrilees, (front) Rebekka Findlay, Kirsty Gilmour, Imogen Banker, Jillie Cooper, Caitlin Pringle

After 54 England caps, Blair opted to return to the Scotland fold following his controversial omission from the England squad for the Delhi Commonwealth Games.

He said at the time: "The possibility of representing Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow is an exciting one."

has made it a reality.

He and the 26-year-old Glaswegian are among the top four seeds in their event, with England's Chris and Gabrielle Adcock, Singapore pair Danny Bawa Chrisnanta and Yu Yan Vanessa Neo, and the English duo Chris Langridge and Heather Olver.

Yet Blair seems unfazed by the expectation his lofty seeding brings, and is determined to keep his focus despite the Games fanfare in the city where he lives.

He told BBC Scotland: "An event like the Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games is so different from playing your normal tournaments. It's a big, multi-sport environment and you're living in the Athletes' Village.

"If you have, perhaps, Usain Bolt walking past you, when you are young you can get very excited and you can forget the reason why you're actually there.

"Having been there before, perhaps I've fallen into these traps.

"But I'm getting older and I want to do tremendously well for everyone in our home Games, put all the excitement aside until we are finished and then enjoy the parties a bit more."

Blair admits his and Bankier's focus all year has been to reach the top four. The pair didn't have a world ranking so had to work their way through the smaller tournaments to get into the top 32 and, with it, qualification for the major tournaments.

He said: "That should hopefully give us an easier draw to the semi-final and that's where the medals are won and where you need to produce your best.

"There are also some incredibly good Malaysian players. We'll need to be ready from the start."

The pair played in the Superseries events in Asia and Australia recently but did not advance beyond the second round in these elite tournaments.

"It was a long way to go to Japan and Indonesia but we were trying to secure the second seed," said Blair.

"When you get to that level everyone is very close and it just comes down to a few moments and a few points.

"Hopefully playing that standard will stand us in good stead."

Blair will also play in the men's doubles with Longniddry's Paul Van Rietvelde, who has been training with the GB squad in England, while Bankier will partner the country's top-ranked singles player Kirsty Gilmour in the women's doubles.

Van Rietvelde and Jillie Cooper will also play in the mixed doubles. Kieran Merrilees carries Scotland's hopes in the men's singles while the young pairing of Martin Campbell and Patrick MacHugh will join Blair and Van Rietvelde in the men's doubles.

Robert BlairEdinburgh32Mixed doubles, men's doubles and team event
Patrick MacHughGlasgow22Men's doubles and team event
Martin CampbellEdinburgh23Men's doubles and team event
Paul Van RietveldeLongniddry22Men's doubles and team event
Kieran MerrileesGlasgow24Men's singles and team event
Rebekka FindlayErskine20Team event
Kirsty GilmourHamilton21Women's singles and doubles and team event
Imogen BankierGlasgow26Mixed doubles, women's doubles and team event
Jillie CooperEdinburgh26Mixed doubles and team event
Caitlin PringleGlasgow20Team event

Those players will be joined in the mixed team event by two 20-year-olds - Rebekka Findlay and Caitlin Pringle.

The 23 badminton teams at Glasgow 2014 are divided into five groups of four teams and one group of three. The six group winners and the best two runners-up will progress to the knockout round.

Each tie is determined from best-of-five contests featuring matches in each of the five categories - mixed doubles, men's doubles, women's doubles, men's singles and women's singles.

"I think the team event is quite strong. We're going in on fifth position," Blair said of Scotland, who are ranked behind Malaysia, England, Singapore and India.

"If we all perform to our best it's a chance to take on some of the big teams.

"I'm sure everyone would love it if we came up against England for a medal. It would be something for everyone to get excited about."

Merrilees, Van Rietvelde, Bankier, Gilmour and Cooper all represented Scotland at the 2010 Games when the team reached the quarter-finals and 2006 bronze medallist Susan Egelstaff finished fourth in the women's singles.

But for Campbell, MacHugh, Findlay and Pringle, the Games are a new experience.

"There aren't many competitions where it's almost two weeks of solid playing so it can be draining and stressful," Blair added.

"You have to relax to make sure you are ready. Hopefully I can give them a bit of advice and they might not ignore the old man talking to them."

Wise words from a thirty-something.

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