Alan Campbell gets his oar in for Rio push
For Alan Campbell the Road to Rio 2016 begins in earnest this weekend as he returns to serious competition for the first time in eight months since he won the bronze medal in the men's single sculls at the London Olympics.
His tears on the podium became one of the iconic images of the Games for Northern Ireland sports fans but for the Coleraine rower they were the outpouring of joy, pain, relief and exhaustion all rolled into one moment he'd spent his life dreaming about and working towards.
In the weeks that followed Campbell shared his success with anyone and everyone never turning down an autograph or photograph request and there isn't a better ambassador for the country but the pressure of the four year Olympic cycle, Campbell's third, took a heavy toll. He needed a break from the day-to-day routine of an Elite athlete to decide his future.
"I didn't know after the Olympics whether I was going to go on to 2016. I was undecided; it's such a commitment to make. As time went on I decided I did want to go on," explained Campbell.
"I've been continually improving. In Athens I was 12th then fifth in Beijing and third in London and there is still that step to go and I believe I can make it.
"I'll be 33 in Rio, the past two Olympic champions were 33 and it shows that's a prime time in this sport,"
"But what I did know is that I didn't want to go back into the GB team straight away. I wanted to stay outside of it.
"I'd spent 10 years inside that squad set-up and don't get me wrong, it's a great team and very successful but over time it starts to wear you down.
"It's very intense and I needed a bit of a break from it. I had started not to enjoy it.
"Last year there was a lot of pressure on me a few months from the Olympics to change boats and I had to really stand my ground in order to stay in the single and I was unhappy in the set-up so I needed to step away to try and build my confidence back up and rediscover the love for the sport and I've really enjoyed that process."
If any vindication of his decision to go for a fourth Olympics was needed but to also try and find that necessary motivation a trip with coach Bill Barry to Rio in January provided all the answers he needed.
"I absolutely adored Rio and had a fantastic experience and I think they will put on a great Olympics. It's an iconic city and it gave me a new boost of enthusiasm."
Campbell has been training with his club, Tideway Scullers, on the River Thames and recently had a ten-day training camp in Varese in Italy.
It's been a long, cold winter and Campbell has had to find that self-motivation which he believes has been a good thing.
He returned to the GB team's base at Caversham this week for the first time since the Olympics to prepare for this weekend's trials which double up as the National Championships and Campbell will be seeking a ninth title.
Once Monday arrives he'll fall in line and return to training with the rest of the squad as they head towards the world championships in Korea in September. Campbell wants to continue in the single sculls and has struck a 'deal' with head coach Jürgen Grobler that if he continues to hit targets he'll be able to pursue his Olympic dream.
Campbell knows that means medalling in the world championships this year and next as a minimum requirement.
"I have discussed what I want to do and obviously they have to act in the best interests of British rowing but my allegiance is to the single sculls and I know I can move that boat fast," he added.
"The deal, I guess you could call it, that has more or less been struck is that if I don't look like I am capable of winning that Olympic medal then I would look at an alternative if there was a place for me in another boat.
"That's Plan B but my plan is to win the world championships either this year or next, I want to be a world champion and I need to be a world champion in order to show that I can be an Olympic champion and that's what I'm striving towards."