Scottish badminton looks decidedly different from how it was a mere six months ago.
Imogen Bankier, Britain's highest-ranked female mixed doubles player, last week announced that she is to leave the Great Britain programme, based in Milton Keynes, and relocate back home to Scotland. And, following my retirement, Kirsty Gilmour has taken over the mantle of Scottish No.1 singles player in admirable fashion.
Imogen's sudden and surprising announcement means she will now train in Glasgow and partner a Scottish player for the first time in seven years in her bid for success. Her departure from Milton Keynes means there is now no female Scottish representative at the GB training headquarters.
On the face of it, this may appear irrelevant to Kirsty, but it may have more of a bearing than first appears. She has made an impressive start to the season, taking full advantage of the post-Olympic lull to claim three titles on the European Circuit; her best results to date featuring victories against players world ranked No.46 and No.51. This has lifted her to No.57.
It cannot sit comfortably with the powers-that-be in England that my qualification for the London Olympics was done while living and training in Glasgow and, if Kirsty continues her progress, she is likely to follow in my footsteps and qualify for Rio in 2016. It is hardly a ringing endorsement for the GB programme, is it?
Kirsty, it must be said, is part of the GB set-up, albeit remotely, but it will be interesting to see how the GB panel reacts to her decision to remain in Scotland. England has a chronic, almost embarrassing, dearth of talent emerging in women's singles at present and there is, I suspect, a possibility that they will put pressure on Kirsty to base herself, at least part-time, in England.
After my qualification for London, all the while totally independent from the GB programme, can they allow this to happen again when the best facilities and training programme are purportedly at the main GB centre in Milton Keynes?
My opinion is that Kirsty should stay at the National Badminton Academy in Glasgow. As a member of the Scottish Institute of Sport, she will get all the support she both needs and wants to enable her to reach her potential, whereas in England, the support is inevitably diluted as a result of the pool of players being so much larger. The SIS makes its players the priority and treats them accordingly.
The one drawback for Kirsty when it comes to staying in Scotland is the absence of any other female singles players to train with. The chasm between her and the next in line is huge, but the problem is not insurmountable.
At different times in my career, I encountered this situation but the advantage of being a girl is the constant presence of boys who are fitter, stronger and quicker that you can train alongside. While it is not an ideal situation – men's singles players have a very different style to their female counterparts – it is a hurdle which many female singles players who emerge from a small nation have to tackle.
Another factor which will encourage Kirsty to stay in Scotland is that a move down to England instantly results in having to give up anything resembling a normal life. It has been a factor in all of the other Scottish players leaving for Milton Keynes, and certainly had a bearing on my decision to walk away from the GB programme. The environment at Milton Keynes is, frankly, unhealthy when it comes to producing well-rounded individuals. Imogen admitted publically that she struggled with the lack of stimulation outside the badminton hall.
I, for one, would be disappointed to see Kirsty leave Scotland. Everything, from coaching expertise, support services and world-class facilities, are present north of the border. I qualified for an Olympic Games and won medals at two Commonwealth Games while, and as a result of, being based in Scotland and I see no reason why she could not reach her potential while remaining where she is. My fear is that politics intervenes and forces her hand. If she sticks to her guns and stays north of the border, it will prove that Scotland is as good a place as any to become Britain's best women's singles player.