Anatomy of an Olympian
When Darren Campbell takes his mark in Athens this week, he will represent one of our greatest hopes for gold. Has he got what it takes to win? Mike Rowbottom examines a body of evidence
Wednesday 11 August 2004
Adidas, provider of the official British kit for Athens, has developed a technology, ClimaCool, to enhance ventilation. Average August temperatures in the Greek capital will be 88F, compared to an average of 64F in Sydney in 2000. "We mapped the human body to determine which areas generate the most heat," says Chris DiBenedetto, the Adidas designer. The system works by pulling sweat through the fabric, which also has conductive tape in key areas to dissipate heat. There's also a back vent to increase airflow. Will it work, especially for the distance runners? We'll see.
Short and sleek
"The hairstyle depends on how I'm feeling, but by the time I run in Athens it will be smooth and sleek."
At the age of 30, Campbell has established a reputation of being strong enough mentally to deliver on the big occasions. He has won medals at all the major events - 100m gold in the 1998 European Championships, 200m silver at the 2000 Olympics, 100m bronze and 100m relay gold in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and 100m bronze in last year's World Championships.
Keeping the hips high during races is one of the prime tenets of the beliefs inculcated into Campbell by Linford Christie, who took his young charge to the World Championships in Stuttgart in 1993 to gain experience of a major championship. That was the race where Christie confirmed his position as the world No 1 by beating all the American sprinters, Carl Lewis included. Campbell, winner of two silver medals at the junior world championships in 1992, was an amiable and wide-eyed observer.
Campbell's favourite meal, as made by his mother Marva, is chicken, rice and peas, West Indian style. "My mum is really proud that I have achieved so much from the start I had and, as much as possible, stayed out of trouble," Campbell says.
They have taken him to success as an athlete, and a position (at this year's European Cup) as Britain's team captain - but Campbell's feet can also kick a football to good effect. Wigan Athletic wanted to sign him as a schoolboy, and it was only when his mother, er, put her foot down that he chose athletics instead. Even so, after becoming disillusioned with the sport in 1994, he returned to football, playing for Plymouth Argyle in the Football League and leading the non-league side Weymouth. He was persuaded to return to track and field in 1996 by his mentor and coach Linford Christie, the 1992 Olympic 100m champion. "I wouldn't swap athletics for playing in the Premiership," Campbell says. "I enjoyed playing football and am glad I had that opportunity, but I love my sport. I did combine the two when I won the fastest footballer in the league competition at Wembley one year."
His right foot is more likely to hit the brake than the accelerator in his treasured possession, a black Jaguar XK8 with gold wheels. "I really enjoy driving the XK8, and I also have a four-door Jaguar. I have left my speedier days behind me. My worst investment was probably a Ford XR2, which I bought at 18 for £2,000. Within a year, most of it needed attention."
On his knees
On 1 December 2000, after dropping his son Aaryn at nursery, Campbell was involved in a road accident. His leg was injured so badly that his season was threatened and his entire career in jeopardy. "I couldn't straighten my leg, so it really shook me up. It took about four weeks before I realised I was going to be OK." He was unable to run in the 2001 World Championships because of a hamstring injury. A year later, a chest infection forced him to pull out of the trials for the Commonwealth Games in his home city of Manchester. But the selectors backed him, and he was able to return to the City of Manchester Stadium the following month to experience what he still regards as his finest hour.
"I love diamonds, and I liked this ring so much when I saw it that I didn't mind that it only fitted my thumb. I've had it for two years. If something looks good I'll buy it, but not because it has a name or someone else is wearing it. Nine years ago, I probably had £20 in the bank." Campbell earned a six-figure income in 2000, when he took the Olympic 200m silver. Winning in Qatar that year earned him £33,000, which he used as a deposit on a £215,000 house. He recently bought a house for his mother Marva. Via his management group, Nuff Respect, he has a three-year deal with Reebok worth five figures a year, six with bonuses.
Unlike many of his sprinting rivals, Campbell eschews tattoos. While Maurice Greene of the USA adds new designs to his body on a regular basis (the latest bashful arrival is one incorporating the initials GOAT, standing for Greatest Of All Time), Britain's team captain has resisted the temptation. "I do like some tattoos, but it's just not something I have ever wanted to do. If I was forced to choose something to have done, it would be the names of my children." Campbell's fellow British sprinter Mark Lewis-Francis is of a similar way of thinking - one of his shoulders carries the name and date of birth of his son, Romeo.
Keeping the faith
Campbell's crucifix is much more to him than simply jewellery. Athletics fans will be familiar with the diamond cross, because he takes it out and kisses it before each race. "I don't go to church every Sunday," he says of his faith, "but I was brought up in a Christian household and I just believe in God. I couldn't have done what I have in my life without Him. I'd still be on a council estate, probably doing things I shouldn't."
A sharp tongue
Like his mentor Linford Christie, Campbell isn't shy about voicing his opinions. This year, he has castigated fellow athletes for squandering their lottery money on "PlayStation games and DVDs". "In life, you can get into a comfort zone where you dream about having a certain type of lifestyle, and it's all about money. It can make you soft. To me, it's still about winning medals." He reacted strongly to recent comments by the former 110m hurdler Colin Jackson, who wrote off Britain's chances of athletics medals in Athens. "Colin should know more than most that even if you go into a major championship as the favourite, it doesn't guarantee a medal." The two have little love for each other. "I've never liked Colin's negativity about life," Campbell says.
Heart and home
Campbell's eldest son, Aaryn, five, likes Grand Prix motor racing more than athletics at the moment. But would Campbell be worried about his son going into a sport mired in doping controversies? "I still believe that only a small percentage of athletes take drugs. As a parent, I would hope to instil in my children the same standards as I live by. So I know he would never be tempted to take drugs in whatever sport - if any - he does." Campbell has regular blood samples taken as proof of innocence. "I know the International Association of Athletics Federations would not accept our tests as evidence in our defence. But I am doing it for my own peace of mind. I couldn't live with people looking at me and saying, 'That guy's a cheat.'"
Losing his grip
Campbell's left hand carried the baton to victory on the last leg of the sprint relay at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in the City of Manchester stadium. The arena is only a few miles away from the notorious Moss Side estate, where Campbell was brought up. Asked what single thing he'd take from his house if it were on fire, Campbell said he'd take the video of his performances there, where he took bronze in the 100m and relay gold. "I am most proud of my achievements at the Commonwealth Games because of what I went through and overcame at that time." His participation was in doubt because of a chest infection, but off-track dramas weighed most heavily. His relationship with his partner Clair had broken down - partly because he had been forced to miss the previous season with injury. At one point, he says, he was so down that he contemplated suicide. At his lowest, Campbell was counselled by his friend and neighbour Nathan Blake, the Wolverhampton Wanderers forward. "I owe him a lot," says Campbell, now reunited with Clair. The couple had a second son, Dillan, in March, and plan to marry this autumn.
Although Campbell will be wearing Adidas kit in Athens - the official Olympic suppliers for the British team - he'll retain the shoes specially designed for him by Reebok. He has two different designs of running spikes, one with a Velcro "zip" over the laces and one without. At the recent Norwich Union International meeting in Birmingham, his start was affected by the zip breaking on the starting blocks, but the problem has been rectified. The manufacturers have lengthened the metal plate containing the spikes in order to fit in with his running style. Linford Christie only ever wore one shoe in his career, a Puma LA Star; very basic, very comfortable. One pair would last Christie three races, but Campbell gets more use out of his. Spikes are precious to an athlete, but since September 11 it has become harder for Campbell to carry them as hand luggage on flights. They're spikes, you see...
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