Rower – Alan Campbell
Alan Campbell gave a heavy sigh, smiled and said, “The knee has been giving me problems obviously.” The Coleraine scullers knee will not garner as many column inches or feature in as many news reports as David Beckham’s metatarsal once did but the infection that required key-hole surgery after the season’s second World Cup regatta in Lucerne at the very start of June is not an injury any Olympian wants in the build-up to the Games.
“It kept me out of the boat for five weeks. I was on crutches and it’s taken a while but I have been on a massive rehabilitation programme. I stayed at home at the Olympic Medical Institute and then the English Sports Institute and I’ve been looked after extremely well. I’ve had my own little team of people around me which I’ve called Team Misery and we’ve basically been working out and going through a slow process nursing me back to fitness. The knee has good days and bad days but it’s something we can deal with, we have been dealing with and it’s not something that I’m going to let get in the way of my Olympic race,” explained Campbell.
When he gets to the starting line at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing Park it will have been ten weeks from the final at Lucerne and Campbell admits only during that heat will he know for sure what kind of shape he is in.
“I have absolutely no idea, in one respect it has been good for my preparation because I have been fully focused and I also haven’t even thought about the Olympics, just about trying to get back to where I was at, and it that sense I’ve just been focused on my rowing, no outside distractions as there can be and I have gone within myself and my coach Bill Barry and we’ve focused completely in on ourselves and that will give me the opportunity to come out stronger in some aspects. Some things might not be quite there but I can’t do anything about that, I’ll be doing everything I can and perform as well as I can do on the day.”
The bulk of heavy training was done over the winter and five weeks out of the boat may not be as catastrophic as would first seem. In fact the enforced rest may have done Campbell some good.
He says, “There is that I suppose, I’ve had the rest and all the training I did in the winter comes into play then but I lost a lot of strength very quickly and that is something we’ve really had to work on but I’ve literally lived in the weights gym. It hasn’t been ideal and not the way I would have chosen to go into the Games but the unexpected does happen and all I can do is deal with it and its how you bounce back that counts, I’ve shown I can do that before so I know I can do it.”
Before the injury Campbell had won in Munich and finished fourth in Lucerne on the World Cup circuit. When he said his goal was the gold medal it wasn’t just bluster and bravado, he had every reason to believe he would be on the medal podium and maybe even on the top of it.
Last year at the World Championships in Munich he narrowly missed out on a medal in the single sculls final, finishing fourth behind the three scullers he’ll most likely to battle with again for the medals in Beijing – three times world champion Mahe Drysdale (New Zealand), Ondrej Synek (Czech Republic) and defending Olympic gold medallist Olaf Tufte (Norway). However Campbell has beaten all three of them in international competition but has he now had to adjust his ambitions for Beijing?
“In some ways I haven’t had a chance to really think about the racing and I probably won’t know until the first race exactly how I stand and what’s going on. I know training has been going well but in my mind Drysdale, Synek and Tufte are the three guys to aim for and in some ways the three medals are theirs. It’s up to me and the other guys to try and change that and make sure that doesn’t happen. I see myself as a bit of an outsider now in terms of what has happened. If you had asked me straight after the first world cup race in Munich I would have said that they would have to take a medal away from me.”
This will not be Campbell’s first Olympics. He was in the Great Britain quadruple sculls that went to Athens four years ago. He admits, “For me it was a rather disappointing experience. I was the last guy into the last boat, selection for the Olympics had been held over us all year in the build-up. The quad I was in came 12th of the thirteen qualified crews. I felt I was capable of a better result and it was this that drove me onto wanting to do the single so much. On the other hand I realized how big the Olympics were. At a World Championships when any of our crews win it is a win for British rowing, but at the Olympics it was much bigger, it was a win for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We all experienced the disappointment of Paula Radcliffe and we all shared in the glory of Kelly Holmes. I felt very much part of something much bigger. I think for Beijing I will want to make sure that I’m not in the same position as Athens and that I’ll be part of a much wider picture.”
He finally got out of the quad and into a boat on his own at the start of the 2006 season and immediately won his first World Cup regatta and went on to become the World Cup champion before the disappointment of finishing sixth in front of his home crowd at Eton in the World Championships. Last year, ahead of his fourth place in Munich at the Worlds, he added two silver medals on the World Cup circuit and won the Diamond sculls at Henley, beating his close friend Drysdale in the final.
Only time will now tell if his injury has hindered his chances of an Olympic medal. He’ll move forward to London 2012 regardless of the result in Beijing. Back in 2002 The Sun newspaper printed a picture of Beckham’s foot and asked the public to touch it and pray for a speedy recovery and the England captain played a full part in the World Cup campaign in Korea and Japan. Campbell heads east hoping that his knee will hold out for three races, if it does an Olympic medal can still be his.