Rio 2016: A match made in British badminton heaven

After triumphing at December’s BWF World Superseries Finals in Dubai, British badminton aces Chris and Gabby Adcock have arrived in Rio with hopes of a medal. But as Will Jones discovers, their partnership goes beyond the court...

In racquet sports, the best doubles pairs have a mutual understanding that verges on the telepathic. Some such relationships are grounded in genetics: top-ranked tennis stars Bob and Mike Bryan are identical twins, as are China’s highly-rated badminton pairing of Luo Ying and Luo Yu. Other partnerships require hard work on the court and, especially, off it – the sports world is filled with gossip and rumour about world-beating doubles teams who couldn’t stand the sight of each other.

Somewhere in between these extremes sit the badminton mixed-doubles pairing of Chris and Gabby Adcock, currently ranked seventh in the world. The British duo are partners both on and off the court: having met as children through the sport, the Adcocks have been a couple since they were teenagers, and finally tied the knot at the end of 2013.

Rio will be Chris’s second Olympic Games, but the first for Gabby. Before London 2012, their on-court pairing was controversially split up by their coaches, who wanted them each to work with more experienced players. Paired with Imogen Bankier, Chris was selected for the London Games – but Gabby didn’t make it, watching from the stands as Chris and Imogen got knocked out during the opening group stages.

Since resuming their partnership on the court, the Adcocks have gone from strength to strength. In 2014, they won gold at the Commonwealth Games, then capped a terrific 2015 season with victory at the prestigious BWF World Superseries Finals in Dubai. The pair agree that the closeness of their off-court relationship really helps their game.

The Adcocks have been handed a tough draw in Rio. With two couples making it out of each group into the quarter-finals, they’ll need to overcome Danish duo Joachim Fischer Nielsen and Christinna Pedersen, who won bronze at London 2012 and are seeded fourth at Rio; Chinese team Xu Chen and Ma Jin, silver medallists in London; and the Polish pair of Robert Mateusiak and Nadieżda Zięba, who beat the Adcocks in the final of the Bitburger Open last year.

But bolstered by their triumph in Dubai, Gabby and Chris are positive about their chances on sport’s biggest stage. “If we play our best,” reckons Chris, “we can beat anybody.”

The Adcocks play their first match in Rio on Thursday, August 11, the opening day of the Olympic badminton competition