The 2012 European Senior Championships were opened by performances from the Bulgarian youth gymnastics squad and local musicians but it was a dazzling display of strength from England’s golden generation of Masters Badminton players that stole the show at the Armeetz Arena in Sofia.
17 different nations left Bulgaria with medals yet it was the 92- strong English contingent that was the envy of Europe as, for the second Championships in succession, they stormed to the top of the medal table with a unrivalled haul of 58 medals - including 16 in solid gold.
That haul, which well surpassed the table topping total achieved in Ireland two years ago, was more than twice as many as 2nd placed Germany and the 3rd placed Danes combined such was the level of impressive performance and imperious form across the board.
Reigning European champions defended their titles, new champions adorned new crowns and there were unexpected riches in the form of 14 silvers and 22 bronzes as the rewards mounted up from the 5 day event.
In fact, with 8 all-English finals being played out, all 2010 targets was smashed in some style as titles were won in 6 age categories with Mark Golds [pictured], Eric Plane, Christine Crossley and Harry Shadwick leading the way, each bagging a brace of titles from Bulgaria.
For Golds, the double title win in the Over 45 category carried even more significance. Golds, seeded 2 alongside Jon Austin, just missed out on a World crown when they finished as runners up in Canada last year, so the European title in Mens Doubles will come with relief as much as pleasure.
Things would get even better in Bulgaria as Golds teamed up with Debbie Miller to win the Over 45 Mixed Doubles title. The English pair beat the top seed Danes 21-9, 21-19 in the final and had also seen off the challenge of team mates – and 2nd seeds – Austin and Elaine Meagher en route to the final.
The Over 45 category was proving a real success story for England as Sue Crompton and Viv Gillard added the Womens Doubles crown to the Mixed and Mens Doubles titles heading back to English soil.
Top seeded and with World silver medal to their name, Crompton and Gillard enjoyed the bragging rights over Betty Blair and Debbie Miller in the final as English pairings took gold, silver and bronze to show off the strength in depth in a highly competitive age group.
Whilst Germany showed real threat in the newly introduced Over 35 category there was some success for England as Julie Bradbury claimed gold in the Womens Doubles alongside her Belarusian partner Vlada Cherniavskaya.
There was further Womens Doubles success in the Over 40s category too as reigning world champions Jo Muggeridge and Tracey Middleton proved simply too strong for the draw as top seeds, beating German, Danish and Russian rivals en route to winning the title with a finals day victory over fellow English duo, Olga Bryant and Tracy Hutchinson.
However, there was a shock on the cards for Over 55 World champions Betty Bartlett and Pauline Davis who, whilst playing up an age group in the Over 60 Womens Doubles, had to settle for silver as team mates Susan Ely and Eileen Carley - also reigning world champions - proved their top seed billing correct to take gold.
Davis, though, was to taste success in Sofia as she impressively won the Over 60s Womens Singles event – and in some style, beating both the top 2 seeds – from Holland and Denmark - in the latter stages.
It was to spark a gold rush in the Singles events for English Masters players across the age groups as Christine Crossley won the Over 55 Womens Singles whilst Eric Plane took the Over 50s Mens Singles event.
For both Crossley and Plane, the singles success was matched by a doubles crown as they enjoyed glory on two fronts in their respective age groups.
Crossley paired Ian Purton to victory in the Over 55 Mixed Doubles to keep up England’s long standing tradition in this event. The top seeds were rarely threatened en route to victory and beat Scottish duo Dan Travers and Christine Black in the final.
Likewise, Plane defended his 2010 singles title and was just as impressive alongside Debbie Rigby as the pair rallied to success in the Over 50s Mixed Doubles with wins over rivals from England, Poland, Bulgaria and Denmark.
Plane was not the only player to successful retain the title he won in Ireland 2 years ago though. Harry Shadwick once again was on the medal hunt and he enjoyed another successful European campaign, protecting both his Mixed and Mens Doubles crowns.
Despite seeing his own singles challenge end with a silver medal, Shadwick paired Michael Coley to the title in Over 70s Mens Doubles event – making its debut for 2012 - before joining Brenda Andrew to emerge victorious from all English final with Jim Garratt and Rene Jones in the Over 65 Mixed.
For Garratt, it was the second silver of the Championships as he also endured finals day defeat at the hands of England team mates in the Over 65 Mens Doubles – this time, his conquerors were Dave Eddy and David Hutchinson.
Meanwhile, the big surprise package in Sofia were Bob Bell and Janet Fletcher who were crowned European Senior champions in the Over 60s Mixed Doubles event. The unseeded English duo – one of 4 to reach the Semi Final stages – denied no. 1 seeds Brian Wright and Susan Ely 23-21, 21-18 in the final and had beaten the no. 2 and no.3 seeds en route to glory.
Wright was to be on the wrong end of the scoreline also in the Over 60s Mens Doubles event has he and partner Peter Emptage lost out to William Hamblett and Graham Holt in the final.
With over 50 medals to report, coverage here has focussed attentions on England’s title winning players in Sofia however BADMINTON England congratulation the full list of medal winners on their outstanding achievements in Bulgaria.
To see a full list of medallists and a full results round up, CLICK HERE