By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Concerned colleagues often warn of the perils of work-place romances but Britain’s badminton power couple Chris and Gabby Adcock believe marriage has only made their on-court performance more harmonious.
The mixed doubles pair are Team GB’s best chance of a maiden badminton gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and their relationship has gone from strength to strength since their wedding three years ago.
Not long after their honeymoon, the Adcocks upset China’s London Olympic champions Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei to win the Hong Kong Superseries title and took gold at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow the following year.
In December, they became the first Britons to win a title at the World Superseries Finals in Dubai, the sport’s equivalent to tennis’s season-ending ATP World Tour Finals.
They head to Rio as the world’s seventh-ranked pair, brushing off fears about the Zika virus and convinced that domestic bliss has given them an edge in their mission to win a medal for Team GB.
“I think it’s really easy for us to read each other and how we’re feeling, if one’s a bit more tired or whatever,” Gabby Adcock told Reuters in an interview in Sydney, with husband Chris perched beside her.
“So that’s good that we can be honest with each other and we’re working towards the same goal.
“We know if one’s having a bad day the other one’s got to be there to support and it does happen.
“So we’re very fortunate that we know each other inside out.
“I know that Chris is putting in the work every day 24-7 and he trusts that I’m doing the same.”
Gabby, a Leeds-born 25-year-old and Chris, a 27-year-old from Leicester, seem a relaxed and amiable couple for all their determination to succeed.
They have known each other since they were children competing on the national age circuit and are rarely out of each other’s pockets, living and training in Milton Keynes where Badminton England (BE) has its national performance center.
They were doubles partners and a couple well before the London Olympics but in a Shakespearean twist, BE’s coaches tore their on-court partnership asunder before it could fully bloom.
Chris was paired with Imogen Bankier, while Gabby went with Robert Blair.
The Adcock-Bankier partnership was more successful, yielding a world silver medal in 2011 and the pair were selected for the 2012 London Olympics.
With then-fiancee Gabby relegated to a cheerleader, Adcock and Bankier were knocked out early in their home Games and parted ways the following year.
The Adcocks’ enforced separation would have been a test for the strongest of relationships, but the couple insist the time apart strengthened their bonds.
“The plan was to bring us back together later on and I think we both developed a lot, with Gabby playing with Robert and me playing with Imogen,” said Chris Adcock.
“And now we’ve come back together and it almost feels like we’ve not split up before but everything’s improved.
“I think when you’ve played together so long, like we did, you cover each other’s weaknesses up. But when you play with other people you strengthen your weaknesses.
“And since we’ve come back together we’ve become a lot more rounded.”
The spread of Zika in Brazil has prompted a number of athletes to pull out of Rio, citing health concerns.
The mosquito-borne virus can cause potentially severe birth defects in babies whose mothers were infected during pregnancy, including microcephaly — marked by small head size that can lead to developmental problems.
The Adcocks’ parents have been diligent in warning their athlete children to take all precautions but the couple have never wavered.
“We haven’t had any second thoughts about going, that’s for sure,” said Chris. “It’s the Olympic Games, it’s our pinnacle and we can’t wait for it.”
They will bid to burnish Britain’s solid record in Olympic mixed doubles which includes Simon Archer and Joanne Goode’s bronze at the 2000 Sydney Games and Gail Emms and Nathan Robertson’s silver at Athens in 2004.
Having battled for three years to get to Rio, the idea of letting off steam with a medal around their necks is a tickling one for the couple.
“It’d be a great holiday after winning a medal, I’d go on a one-month bender,” Gabby laughs.
“Straight to Vegas!” adds Chris.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)