Robert Blair out to show his true colours

Robert Blair (SNS)
Robert Blair (SNS)
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Robert Blair already has Commonwealth Games medals to garnish a career that has taken him to the top of world badminton.

The problem for the Edinburgh-born doubles specialist is that much of his success in the sport has been while representing England.

He believes a medal in Scotland colours at Glasgow 2014 would give him his proudest badminton moment.

Brought up in Longniddry, where his mum, Irene, is a coach, Blair first played the sport at primary school but had no idea at the time that it could lead him all the way to an Olympic Games.

“I only treated it as a bit of fun and it wasn’t until I was at university that I started to take it a bit more seriously,” he recalls.

“Of course, the higher up you get, the more demanding it becomes. But I decided to give it a go, before then it was just something I did and happened to be quite good at. Then, I decided to go full-time and see how far I could go.”

He reached the top in Scotland before deciding, at the age of 20, that the best way for him to reach his full potential was to move south to base himself at England’s National Badminton Centre in Milton Keynes.

That was back in 2001 and three years later he was part of the Great Britain team that played in the Olympics in Athens.

Two years on from that, he won a team silver medal for England at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and also a bronze in the men’s doubles with Anthony Clark.

There was also a World Championship silver medal and a European Championship bronze medal – both in men’s doubles – in 2006.

However, deep down, Blair knew there would come a time that he would end up crossing swords with Scotland at one championship or other, and that moment came in 2009 at the European Team Championships in Liverpool.

Blair freely admits it was an uncomfortable experience – England won 4-1 – but argues that he was left with little choice when the draw paired the two nations.

He knew there were some bad feelings when he left the Scotland set-up to head south but he felt it offered him the best career opportunity at the time, and who is to argue in terms of the medals that he worked hard to gain.

“You don’t really want to do it [play against your country of birth] but, if you’ve made a commitment and it’s part of your job, then you have a personal integrity that you have to go out and perform,” he said. “That’s what I’d chosen to do – it was my decision to do what I did and I had to play.

“It wasn’t a nice thing to do and I’ll be far happier having it reversed and playing against England at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow where it will be a far more personal 
experience for me. I would have a bit more pride and know this time I was doing it for my country.”

Blair, 32, went on to win 54 caps for England but was left out of their team for the last Commonwealth Games in Delhi, around the same time he was considering returning north of the border. He was welcomed back and has 
renewed his mixed doubles partnership with fellow world silver medallist Imogen Bankier, a potential medal-winning combination at Glasgow 2014.

In November, the pair, seeded fifth, won the Scottish Open Grand Prix title in Glasgow, where Blair is now based, defeating England’s top seeds Chris Langridge and Heather Olver. He also reached the semi-finals of the men’s doubles and it has only whetted the appetite for next summer.

“The great thing about the Commonwealth Games is that people will go and watch sports they wouldn’t normally go to and get quite involved in it,” Blair enthuses.

“The players will definitely be excited and motivated by playing in front of a home crowd. It can be quite daunting for opponents when there is a huge crowd cheering against you.

“When you have a big crowd behind you, you feel everything is for you and that can be a big factor. When you play in some of the Asian countries where badminton is big, there is a pretty fantastic atmosphere.

Hopefully, the Scottish fans will come in and make a lot of noise for us.

“If everything went well, we could win quite a few medals but it’s a strong event and we’re up against good teams and good players. We’ll have to be at our best but hopefully, with support from the home crowd, we can do something.”