Birch and Britain's badminton stars plotting path to Paris

Chloe Birch is pressing on to Paris with a new doubles partner as Britain's badminton stars begin to plot their paths to the next Olympics.

The Preston star was one of four shuttlers to make their Team GB debuts in Tokyo, exiting in the group stage of the women's doubles alongside Lauren Smith.

A fresh Olympic cycle has brought change in the camp. Smith has stepped away from the discipline with Birch now teaming up with Jessica Pugh.

Birch said: "I'm not ready to retire just yet! Paris is a big focus.

"Tokyo was so up and down with the pandemic - we still had a great experience and the organisers did an amazing job with the restrictions in place.

"I would really like to go to a non-COVID Olympics. We're all geared up for Paris and every big tournament is another stepping stone to that."

Smith's sole focus moving forward will be on her mixed doubles duet with off-court partner Marcus Ellis.

The world No.9 pairing surged through to the semi-finals of their first tournament of the year, last week's German Open.

Ellis and Smith couldn't make it past the second round at the blue riband YONEX All England Open in Birmingham, but still believe they can mix it with the very best.

"When we compare ourselves with the best in the world, we know we're right there but we have to be at the top of our game," said Ellis.

"That consistency is something we're working on. Hopefully when the big tournaments come around we'll be nipping at their heels."

Ellis and Smith, who won silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, reached the quarter-finals in Tokyo.

They claimed a landmark win over world No.1's Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai in their second Olympic match, a level of performance they are hoping to harness.

"We know coming in to Tokyo that we were capable of playing well but wondered if it was our last Olympic cycle," said Smith.

"We came away from it knowing we had to do it again. We wanted more and were really hungry for more.

"We left having competed with the best but just couldn't recreate that in the quarter-final.

"We felt we were in amongst it and when we looked at who won the medals, that could have been us. There's a lot more we can give as a pair and improve on and that's a reason to keep going to Paris."

Kirsty Gilmour continues to lead the way in singles and has maintained momentum from Tokyo, reaching the semi-finals at October's prestigious Denmark Open.

South Korea's world No.4 An Se-young was too hot to handle in second round in Birmingham but the Scot feels in the shape of her life.

Gilmour said: "I'm as strong as I've ever been physically, endurance-wise and power-wise, it's just marrying that up with my badminton skills.

"We've got such a good set-up in Scotland - we have everything we need to be world class players.

"We've got the brains behind us, the physio support, everything, we're all looking to start knocking off these little wins here and there.”

Men's doubles pair Ben Lane and Sean Vendy came up on the rails to make their Olympic debuts last summer.

They showed signs of the form that helped them break into Team GB with victory in their opening game at the All England.

The window to pick up Olympic qualification points for Paris is still a year away. Britain's best shuttlers will focus on August's World Championships - which will take place in Tokyo - and this summer's Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

“We’ve got a good mixture of tournaments that should help us get better and we'll see what we can do," said Vendy.

“It's just a case of us doing it day in, day out. It’s been a little bit up and down over the last six months, but in the last two months we've been really on it."

Sportsbeat 2022