In the run-up to the Olympics, we caught up with Jon Austin to find out how Team GB’s coaches were preparing for the Tokyo Games. 

Now back in the UK after a memorable campaign, Julian Robertson – who took charge of the women’s doubles and mixed doubles in Japan – gives us an insight into his experience on sport’s greatest stage. 


In terms of our coaching staff, Jon Austin, our performance director, was there as our team leader. Then there was myself, Nathan Robertson and Peter Jeffrey as the three coaches. We also had one physio, so there were essentially five of us as back-up to the players.

My remit for the Games was to look after the women’s doubles and mixed doubles. Nathan looked after Ben Lane and Sean Vendy in the men’s doubles, which left Pete with Toby Penty and Kirsty Gilmour in the singles.

Everybody was in good shape, focused and looking forward to the Games. The really good thing about the prep camp was the ability to train in the same arena as other sports – boxing, taekwondo and table tennis. I’ve been to quite a few Games and I’ve never experienced that. All the athletes were excited by watching other top sportspeople compete in their disciplines.

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When you move into the competition venue, you get 75 minutes a day for the three or four days before the action starts. You try and keep the exercises and practices quick to sharpen the skills and get used to the drift. There are three main courts in the arena and the drift can be different between them because of where they are placed. We managed to get slots on all those courts to get used to how the arenas would play.

Every coach and player likes to prepare in different ways. Some players like video analysis, some don’t. Some players like a catch-up with the coach just to talk through when they’ve played players previously. Either way, you come together as a team and work out a plan for how you’re going to tackle each match.


It was Chloe’s [Birch] first Olympics, but she had been to the Commonwealth Games and European Games, so she was used to all the other sports and seeing lots of superstars.

It’s obviously a difficult thing to go into your first Olympics when there aren’t any spectators, and I think every sport – not just badminton – struggled a bit with that. Those cheers from the crowd give you extra inspiration sometimes.

Chloe and Lauren [Smith] had a really difficult group – the No.1 seeds [Japan’s Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota], the pair that eventually won gold [Indonesia’s Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu] and a Malaysian pair [Chow Mei Kuan and Lee Meng Yean] who are 11th in the world. The main thing for Chloe was gaining Olympic experience and doing the best she could, and I think she ticked those boxes.

We had good chats after each match. The girls felt they didn’t get into some matches or focus quick enough, but when you are playing the best in the world they are there to stop you doing that. We weren’t expected to come through the group – it was more about individual and personal performances – and I think they did themselves justice with the displays they put in.


The guys started amazingly. The first match against France pair Thom Gicquel and Delphine Delrue was massive, because they have been on fire for the past eight months across the world.

Marcus [Ellis] and Lauren had beaten them at the European Games in 2019 and they were up 3-1 up in head-to-heads, so they were very confident going into it. They knew if they came through that first key game, there was a really good chance they would get through to the latter stages of the tournament.

They put in another very confident display in the second match against the Canadians [Joshua Hurlburt-Yu and Josephine Wu], and then they played the Thai third seeds [Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai].

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They’d had a really successful Asia Tour in January, winning all three tournaments back-to-back, and the guys lost very comfortably to them at the start of the year. Marcus and Lauren had nothing to lose but they knew that if they won the group, it would lead to a better chance in the quarter-finals.

That was a fantastic win [21-12 21-19] and to beat them in two sets was probably one of their biggest career results since they’ve been playing mixed together.

When you’re in an Olympic quarter-final, you’ve got one game to win to give yourself two shots at getting a medal. The guys were confident going into that match due to their form in the group stage, and though the head-to-head against the Hong Kong pair [Tang Chun Man and Tse Ying Suet] was 3-1 against them, they had beaten them at the All England in 2020.

It was a frustrating defeat [21-13 21-18] and they were really disappointed to go out. In the debrief after the game they both felt they had underperformed. It’s always going to be tough when you feel you’ve lost a medal chance and they had been playing well enough to justify that. It just wasn’t to be.


Tokyo did an amazing job to even put the Games on. The village was absolutely amazing – it was probably the best one I’ve ever been to, and the food and accommodation were excellent.

The restrictions made it tough for all sports, but the Games stayed the same. Your focus is still the same in terms of going out there to win a medal, or to do the best you can.

The other things that go with it – they’re not necessarily distractions – but the focus is on the sport and training you’ve done to get there in the first place.

We trained with a few of the other European nations as part of a bubble, and we had a lot of conversations with other coaches and athletes from within Team GB. What Team GB tend to do is have a designated space in the dining hall for athletes, where you can mix and talk to other people from across various sports. That was something everyone really enjoyed.


We have a little bit of downtime for a few weeks and then we get really busy in October, November and December towards the New Year. Hopefully tournaments will be fully running by then.

The rest is important now as the journey to get to an Olympics is a long one, especially with the extra year this time around. It’s important for the athletes to take a break, put the rackets down and step off the training mat for a few weeks before they step back on it – hopefully through to Paris.

It’s exactly the same for us as coaches. When the players lose, we lose as well – we are all in the same boat. The whole team feels the impact.

We’ll come together as a group of coaches and players to review how the last four years have been, which is what you always do after an Olympic cycle. We’ll take some of those lessons learned into the next cycle leading up to Paris and we’ll see if we can make some small changes that could make a big difference.

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