Athletics: Campbell faces up to new challenges

European Athletics Championships: Sprint champion ready to take the test against Boldon, Greene and Fredericks
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The Independent Online
AS THE newly-established European 100 metres champion, Darren Campbell, strode from the arena on Wednesday night, it was suggested to him that he must have exceeded his wildest dreams. "No," he replied pleasantly. "I knew I was going to win it".

By yesterday morning, the 25-year-old was already looking ahead to the challenges lying in front of him - improving on his winning time of 10.04sec, and preparing to meet the likes of Ato Boldon, the world champion Maurice Greene and his sometime training partner, Frankie Fredericks.

But the sense of satisfaction was palpable. The man whom Linford Christie had marked out as his successor six years ago had finally lived up to the high expectation, even if the journey had taken him longer than he could have imagined when he first began to attract attention as the European junior champion and world junior silver medallist. Fittingly, it was Christie who presented him with his gold at yesterday's ceremony.

However, even during the year when Campbell stepped away from the sport to pursue a footballing career with Weymouth and Plymouth Argyle, there were still influential voices calling him back.

Christie, for one, who paid for him to receive treatment in Germany for a back injury and then invited him to train with his group in Florida for the winter of 1995-96. And his mother, Marva, who has encouraged him to be a sprinter since seeing him run as a five-year-old at his school sports.

"It was something about the way I ran," Campbell recalled yesterday. "Every time I played another sport, she kept saying 'Why don't you go back to athletics? That's what you should be doing.' I phoned her last night, and she was very happy. She said 'I told you you should stick with athletics, didn't I?'" Mother knew best after all.

As he reflected upon his new status, Campbell's thoughts turned to the years he had spent as a schoolboy on Moss Side, the Manchester district notorious for its high number of drug-related murders.

"I knew a lot of people who were involved in lots of things," he said. "A lot of them died along the way. You never knew how the violence was going to affect you. A lot of the guys there didn't have any way out, but I was lucky because I had athletics to turn to. I knew some people who were a lot quicker than me, but they didn't have either the perseverance or the support." Campbell believes now, however, that he had to come to terms with some of the support he received before being able to establish himself.

"Six years ago, when Linford touted me to be his successor, I think I took it on board too much," he said. "I believed all the hype, and I think I felt I didn't need to put in all the work because it was my divine right. I think that's why it took me so long to come through. But now I know there are a lot of hungry guys out there, and if you don't do the work, you won't get anywhere."

The dedication may be there, under the coaching influence of Christie, but the intensity which his mentor used to exude on the blocks is entirely absent. Before his races, Campbell often smiles. "I tried to run with aggression in the way Linford did and people like Dwain Chambers do now," Campbell said. "But I realised it wasn't working for me. I'm not like that. If I relax, I run better."

Christie, here working in the BBC TV commentary box, said he had found it difficult to concentrate on covering the 100 metres final. "I was dying to go out and see Darren," he said. "I got down to the track in about 9.9sec. What he did made me proud."

But both Campbell and Christie made it clear that this success is only a step along the way. After the race, Christie rang his own former coach and mentor, Ron Roddan, who identified three mistakes Campbell had made in his start, his pick-up and his finishing, where he raised his arm in triumph before the line.

"You've got to find a fault," Christie said. "Because if your perfect race gets you 10.04, where do you go from there?" From here, Campbell goes to next Tuesday's Lausanne grand prix, still, by his own acknowledgement, with things to learn.

One imminent lesson should not prove too painful an experience, however. Before these Championships, Christie promised to give Campbell his pounds 3,000 Italian sports scooter - a Gilera Runner with the advertising slogan: The dawning of a new era - if he ran a personal best. Campbell has earned his prize; now he must undergo a one-day driving course before he can gain his licence.