Gail Emms: “That’s what the Opening Ceremony does to you!”
Gail Emms is a badminton player for Great Britain who competed at the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, winning a silver medal in 2004 in the mixed doubles. Here she looks back at her memories of the Ceremonies of these Games.
Athens in 2004 was my first Olympic Games and I was desperate to go to the Opening Ceremony. There was just one sticking point though, I was competing very soon after the Opening Ceremony and so the British Olympic Association officials weren’t happy about me being a part of the athletes parade because it can be so tiring and impact on your performance the following few days. So a fantastic compromise was reached- along with one of one of my badminton teammates who was also at his first Olympics and desperate not to miss the ceremony, I was given a ticket for the stands and was able to sit and watch the Opening Ceremony and still be involved which was absolutely brilliant.
The reason I had wanted to go to the Opening Ceremony in Athens quite so much was because I was 27 at that point and who knows what’s going to happen in the future so I just knew that I had to be there. Being in the stand was actually fantastic because I got to see the full ceremony which you don’t always get when you’re an athlete and you’re outside the stadium waiting to parade. So from the stands, I was able to fully appreciate everything and really take it all in.
It’s very hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t been to the Olympics or who hasn’t competed in sport what the flame means.Gail Emms Great Britain
Seeing the flame was really emotional because it’s just so symbolic. It’s very hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t been to the Olympics or who hasn’t competed in sport what the flame means. And when you tell them that you were really emotional and crying your eyes out when someone lit a flame, they don’t always understand it but it’s the one thing that really symbolises the Olympics. Everyone, no matter which country you’re from, knows about the flame and so to be there, see it in person and know that it’s representing you because you’re one of the competitors was just amazing. For me, being at that Opening Ceremony was the culmination of years of dreaming of getting to the Olympic Games.
I experienced some strange feelings at the Closing Ceremony in 2004. My mixed doubles partner, Nathan Robertson, and I had won our silver medal and the entire week before the Closing Ceremony had just been a huge celebration of that achievement. But when I got to the Closing Ceremony, I had this feeling that I didn’t want it all to end. So there was a real mixture of emotions- it was a bit of celebration, a bit of sadness and it was also quite daunting because I had this feeling of “what now?”
I didn’t want to go back to reality, I wanted to stay in the Olympic bubble which is this unique, special bubble with so many incredible people and I remember thinking that I really didn’t want it to end.Gail Emms Great Britain
I’m one of those people who remembers feelings much more than actual moments - I can’t remember nearly as clearly what happened at the Closing Ceremony but I can remember how I felt and being very nervous about what was going to happen next
So at the ceremony, I was very conflicted because I really wanted to party, I was wearing my medal and everyone wanted to celebrate but I was also really scared of the comedown afterwards. Everyone was trying to celebrate but I think we all also had that feeling of sadness because we were so gutted that this amazing few weeks was all over. This thing that we’d worked so hard towards for so long was finished and that’s a strange feeling. I didn’t want to go back to reality, I wanted to stay in the Olympic bubble which is this unique, special bubble with so many incredible people and I remember thinking that I really didn’t want it to end.
I also went to the Opening Ceremony in Beijing and this time, I got the opportunity to parade with Team GB which was absolutely brilliant. It was so hot and so humid and we were all sweating like mad. Parading with the team was great and I remember thinking how lucky the track and field athletes were to have the opportunity to compete in the Bird’s Nest stadium. The stadium was absolutely amazing so to compete in there must have been unbelievable and at that point, I was really wishing that I had tried a bit harder at athletics at school because maybe then I’d have been a long-jumper or something and would have had the chance to compete in the stadium.
There was so many flashing lights at the Opening Ceremony and that was just mad to see. It’s then that you realise how long a track is because my arm was aching from waving for so long because you wave to the crowd the entire way round. And my cheeks were hurting from smiling so much. I remember looking for Union flags and because it’s such a recognisable flag, you can spot it anywhere so any time any of us would see a British flag, we’d zone in on it and scream and cheer at the person holding it because we knew they were there to support us. That continued for the entire lap of the track. And we also would all run like mad towards any television cameras we saw. I don’t know why we all wanted to do that but the television cameras were like magnets - it was like we were all ten year-olds again but that’s what the Opening Ceremony does to you.