The London marathon’s attraction to former Olympians seeking a physical challenge after retiring from top-class sport appears to be undimmed.
Sir Steve Redgrave, James Cracknell and Sebastian Coe have all tried the 26.2 miles with differing degrees of success. Now Gail Emms is adding her name to the list.
This time last year Emms was preparing for the Beijing Games with realistic hopes that she and partner Nathan Robertson would improve on the silver mixed doubles medal they won in Athens four years earlier.
Sadly, the British pair succumbed in the quarter-final to the eventual winners from Korea and a tearful Emms confirmed afterwards that she would be retiring.
Since Beijing, Emms has been handed a contract to promote vitamin supplements and presents Destination 2012, a beginners’ guide to Olympic sports on Channel Four.
She was also been chosen as Badminton England’s ambassador to mentor potential Olympic talent at the national centre in Milton Keynes.
During her heyday Emms was famed for her feistiness on court.
It was always her rather than Robertson who could whip up a crowd — and rile an opponent — with her fist-pumping celebrations and high-fives.
It is that exuberance she will need to harness if she is to succeed in Sunday’s race which she is running for children’s charity Sparks. Training started in earnest after Christmas and Emms reckons she will be pleased with a sub-four hour finish, although she may be playing down expectations as she later lets slip that she has run 21 miles in two hours and 50 minutes.
Not that she found it easy. She admitted: “It was hell. When I got home both my legs locked. I think I hit the wall. I came into the kitchen and put my head on the counter and started crying. I was fine the next day but it was that moment of pure hell and I’ve never known anything like that before.”
She has also noticed in the mirror the effects of training for the marathon. “I’ve completely changed shape. I’ve lost my bum — that’s my power and I’ve lost and inch off my thighs. Badminton is about power, speed and agility so I used to do weight training for squats and lunges. All those years I’ve worked them up I’ve now lost them.”
Emms comes from a sporty family and although she can’t emulate her mother’s appearance in the women’s football World Cup, she may yet set a new family personal best for the marathon. “My dad did the marathon in 3 hours 40 mins and he’s panicking that I’m going to beat him. If I did I’d be very happy.”
* Gail Emms will be running the London marathon in aid of the children’s charity Sparks.