An email conversatiom with Darren Campbell: 'Athletics mattered to me almost more than life itself'

Retirement decision to be made after Europeans; Focusing on Street Athletics project in British cities; How I showed up Dwain Chambers' weakness; Why I kept my eyes on the prize during TV row

By Mike Rowbottom
Thursday 22 September 2011 07:17

You've been around at the top of athletics for 13 years. Are you comfortable being one of the older generation? I've seen them all leave!

Don't you feel a bit lonely now? You've hit the nail on the head there. That's it. It doesn't feel the same any more, and that hurts.

You have hinted strongly that running the relay at this year's European Championships in Gothenburg, which start today, will be your last involvement in a major event. Are you going to retire? I'm making a decision after the Championships, because I need to concentrate now and do my job here; but I'm not one for overstaying my welcome. A lot of people have said I'm afraid of finishing because I've nothing else to do. Anyone who knows me knows that that's not true. One of the first things I'm going to concentrate on is the Street Athletics project I've helped to set up in Manchester and several other cities. I'm proud of the fact that it can help a lot of young people who were like me: talented but growing up in difficult places.

What was it like growing up in Moss Side? I only went to school in Moss Side; I was brought up on the Sale Racecourse Estate. I bought a convenience shop there a couple of years ago, which is run by one of my old friends from the estate. I drop in to see how things are going. You get youngsters in there, and you tell them not to get into trouble; to aim for something better. They say, "It's all right for you". Then I tell them that I was brought up on the estate, and you see their faces change. I just think there's talented people in these places, trying to get out. If certain people hadn't helped me at important times, I could be somewhere very different.

You've just been appointed as an ambassador by UK Athletics. What will that involve? They've asked me to go out to the World Junior Championships in Beijing after the Europeans and get involved with helping some of the athletes. Younger athletes see that you've had success and they want to know things. I tell them that everything you do has got to matter. There are a lot of athletes around now who don't have that attitude. Athletics mattered to me almost more than life itself. One of the things I talk about is being at the 1992 World Juniors when I won two silver medals, and when it was all over I sat in the stands crying. You can see people's eyes widening, and they're asking, 'Why would I do that?' It was because if I had trained harder I could have won two golds.

You must be pleased that your coach, Linford Christie, was brought back into the fold last week as a UK Athletics mentor for the 2012 Olympics. Yes. People say lots about Linford, but he's someone who has so much to give the sport. We seem to hear all the time that we have to follow the American sprinters, but if you look at them now following the Gatlin thing and the Balco thing, they tend to bring up more flaws than anyone else.

What's on your iPod today? R&B mostly, things like Bobby Valentino and Mariah Carey; although I listen to anything nowadays; even opera. I used to use music to get motivated for running; but not so much now. I'm more likely to read a book than listen to music.

Which brings us nicely into ... what are you reading? I read a lot of psychological books: the one I've got with me now is Chicken Soup For The Soul. It sold 85 million copies worldwide, and it's full of different experiences that have happened to people throughout their lives. There's such a lot of bad things going on in the world right now, this puts your faith back in people. There's quite a bit about parenting, which is useful for my two boys, Aaryn and Dillan.

When you won the European 100 metres title in 1998 it was one of 16 medals Britain earned, including nine golds. Eight years on, we are looking at a European Championships where we are expecting between seven and 10 medals, and no golds. What's happened? I think over the last few years there's been an element of complacency. People ought to step up to the challenge and realise what's important. It's not a case of how many golds are we going to win here. I think the pressure should be on to win medals.

Can Dwain Chambers get back to the level he was at before his doping suspension? I don't know. We always knew Dwain's weakness. I think '98, when I beat him to the European gold showed him up; he lost it afterwards. You can never lose it, because then you have shown everyone your weakness.

How do you rank your successes? Winning the Europeans in '98 was special: I planned every part of it. At the Olympics two years later I got spooked in the 100m final; I was like a sports fan out there, so I had to get it right for the 200m. I had a bit of cramp before that final, so I decided to come out of the bend in the lead, and then even if my hamstring had gone, everyone would have thought I was going to win it! Running the final leg at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester was incredibly emotional for me. Then, two years later, we had an Olympic gold.

Michael Johnson told BBC viewers that he didn't believe that you were carrying a hamstring injury at the Athens Olympics. Tell us about the bust-up you almost had with him afterwards. I saw him across a room, and I wanted to get him. I was going to do it; then an old friend of mine from the estate who was with me said, "Darren, don't do it. If you do, everything you've achieved will be ruined." That stopped me. If I had gone on and done it, would I have been in the team that won the Olympic gold?

Konstadinos Kederis, the Greek who surprised everyone by beating you to the 2000 Olympics 200m title, has since been banned for doping offences. Do you feel cheated? I'll only be able to think about that when I retire. I just don't know. I can't afford to have negative thoughts in my head. All I know is that I was the best I could be then; that's what my mum has always told me to be. Straight after the race, Ato Boldon (the bronze medallist) said to me, "Don't worry, by the morning your silver shall be gold". It's ironic, isn't it? It's four years later that Kederis tested positive.

You won a celebrity poker tournament on telly last year. Do you fancy yourself as a gambler? My wife, Clair, worked in casinos, and I used to be a bit of a gambler. I stopped when my children came along. I enjoy things like celebrity poker, but I'd never do gambling online: now I've got money, I don't gamble!

What three words best sum up your character? Dedicated; focused; blessed.

Attachment: The Darren Campbell lowdown

* Born: 12 September 1973

* Club: Sale Harriers

* Coach: Linford Christie

* 1991: 1st 100m & 200m European Junior Championships

* 1992: 2nd 100m & 200m World Junior Championships

* 1993-96: Played football for Cwmbran, Plymouth Argyle, Weymouth and Newport before returning to athletics.

* 1997: 3rd 4x100m World Championships

* 1998: 1st 100m, 4x100m European Championships; 1st 4x100m Commonwealth Games

* 1999: 2nd 4x100m World Championships

* 2000: 6th 100m, 2nd 200m Sydney Olympics

* 2002: 3rd 200m, 1st 4x100m Commonwealth G; 2nd 100m, 1st 4x100m Europeans (DQ for Dwayne Chambers' drug offence)

* 2003: 3rd 100m, 2nd 4x100m (DQ, Chambers drugs) Worlds

* 2004: 1st 4x100m Athens Olympics 2005. Awarded MBE.

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