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Honour makes it win-win night for Bankier

IMOGEN BANKIER ended a week in which she and her mixed doubles partner Robert Blair laid out their credentials as serious Commonwealth Games medal contenders by collecting yet another trophy.

Imogen Bankier is a medal prospect
Imogen Bankier is a medal prospect

Bankier received the Leader's Special Award at the 2013 Glasgow Sportsperson of the Year ceremony last night or, to be more accurate, Anne Smillie, Badminton Scotland's chief executive, received it on her behalf as the Glaswegian was on court with Blair in Mulheim booking a semi-final place at the German Open.

The Scottish duo eased past Singapore's Yu Yan Vanessa Neo and Danny Bawa Chrisnanta 21-7, 21-8 in just 24 minutes and will now play Sapsiree Taerattanachai and Maneepong Jongjit from Thailand for a place in the final.

The previous day, they shocked the Commonwealth's top pairing, Chris and Gabrielle Adock, a result colourfully described by English commentators as the Scots delivering a "Glasgow kiss" to the couple ranked fifth in the world.

That might have been a slightly tongue in cheek reference to Bankier and Chris Adcock having won a World Championship silver medal together three years ago, while Blair has played doubles with both Adocks in the past. However, in competitive terms it also reflected the fact that both Scots, like compatriot Kirsty Gilmour, have turned their backs on the English-based GB programme to train in Glasgow as they focus on the Commonwealth Games.

Having shown such loyalty to her home city Bankier, who won the Sportsperson of the Year trophy at the same awards in 2011 after that surprise World Championship final appearance, could not have been a more appropriate recipient of this latest honour in this particular year and she is thrilled.

"It's brilliant to be acknowledged by your home city and it is great for our sport because it puts it on the map which is particularly good this year in Glasgow when we are looking to get people excited about badminton," the 26-year-old said.

"This is a key time to promote our sport, which is extremely accessible to everyone," Bankier added. "That is one of the main things it has going for it because anyone can book a court and the equipment is not expensive, or you can easily hire it. We also play indoors, which is a major bonus in our climate.

"It is a real global game, with participation extremely high. It's probably in the top five sports in the world in those terms. The only downside is that so many people around the world play it to a high standard, in particular in Asia where for a lot of countries it's their national sport. That makes it is extremely hard to win medals at major Games but at the same time that's the challenge and it's quite a spectacular achievement to have success in that kind of sport."

The power of Asian badminton is certainly reflected in the world rankings which, like Andy Murray's tennis success, only makes Bankier's achievements more remarkable. With five titles to their name in the past year she and Blair are obvious contenders for medals in Glasgow while Bankier's newly-formed partnership with Gilmour in the women's doubles also offers promise.

"Kirsty and I are just starting out in our partnership but we'll have a proper idea of how good we can be and how far we can go once we've got around 10 tournaments under our belts and there will have to be a serious conversation at that point," Bankier said.

"She has become a very established singles player and, barring disaster, will definitely be at the next Olympics so we'll just have to see how doubles fits into that. At the moment she's young and it's very helpful to get a lot of time on court but there will come a time when she has to look at that.

"There's so much focus on the Commonwealths at the moment that I haven't thought about the Olympics too much but Rio will be only a year and a half away at that stage so that will be the time to assess it as regards partners and how realistic it is. It's on my radar and I would like the opportunity to go to another Olympics.

Bankier's successes in the past year: unbeaten in the Sudirman Cup as Scotland won all their matches against higher-ranked teams to finish top of Division 2; won her 50th international cap at this month's European Men's and Women's Team Championships.

Mixed doubles titles: French, Bulgarian and Kharkov Inter- nationals, Scottish Grand Prix, Swedish Masters, Scottish National Championship (all with Robert Blair).

Women's doubles: Finnish Open, Kharkov, Belgian and Czech Internationals (all with Petya Nedelcheva), Scottish National Championship (with Kirsty Gilmour).

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