Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Campbell gets his oar in to make a splash at Olympics

Alan Campbell is ready for his biggest challenge yet at the Olympics
Alan Campbell is ready for his biggest challenge yet at the Olympics

Spare a thought for Alan Campbell’s girlfriend Claudia and just about everyone else close to him when he goes for gold in Beijing.

Quite simply Campbell’s life is rowing so when it comes to relationships, well they just have to fit in and around his training.

Campbell has ruthlessly driven his body back into contention after an abscess in his tooth almost wrecked his Olympic dreams when the infection flowed into his knee, leading to an operation and the process of learning to walk again never mind regaining full fitness.

That was eight weeks ago and now Campbell stands on the brink of a gold medal attempt in Beijing.

“Mentally I’m totally committed, you have to love the sport and if you didn’t then you wouldn’t do it for all the money in the world. I’ve given up a career, missed weddings, missed parties, just been very self-centred and not a nice person to be around at times,” said Campbell.

“It’s pretty hard for my girlfriend because I’m away for weeks and I train seven days a week. I’m up at 6am every morning, no lie-ins and if she wants to see me she has to come to me - it‘s very romantic isn’t it!

“When I do make the effort to make time I have to work out how much time it will take up, how it might effect my training - that probably sounds calculated but I have to do that because I’m immersed in this lifestyle 100 per cent.”

Campbell’s obsession with the sport started when he met current coach Bill Barry, while still in the Army, a silver medallist in the coxless fours at the 1964 Games.

Before that he was certainly in love with rowing, the seeds of which were sown at Coleraine Inst before he told his parents he was going to join the Army at 16.

“I went to Wellbeck College for sixth form, did my A-levels and then got accepted for Sandhurst. I went to the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham and did a Software Engineering degree and I wouldn’t recommend it!

“I was rowing with the Army eight, training at the boat club in London and that‘s when I met Bill Barry. When we met he asked me what did I want to do and I said quite cockily and looking to catch him off guard that I wanted a gold medal in 2008 in the single sculls.

“He said ‘Right, well, you’ll have to lose 10kg, leave the army and learn to be much faster in your starts’. He was deadly serious and so was I. So I left the army, quit my degree and decided to give rowing 100 per cent.

“It was a big decision and a surprise to my mum and dad but they were great. They obviously thought that I had settled down, I had a secure job and then I rang to tell them I was going to row in the Olympics.

“They were never pushy parents but they always encouraged me and backed me and I think you have to make your own mind up about what you want to do and then you’ll give it 100 per cent. “Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to me a formula one driver but I wouldn’t have the guts to throw a car around a corner at 120mph and I’m too big for a start. But rowing is the thing that I love and I have done from the moment I got in a boat.

“I’ve no regrets. When I first left the army I was sleeping on floor at the boat club for six months with a bag of pasta, a bag of porridge and tins of sardines. Then I got £1000 grant and thought all my Christmases had come at once!

“Tough times but they are the ones that inspire you and even though I‘m seen as the underdog because of the injury I‘m backing myself to get gold.”

Campbell certainly isn’t sleeping on floors now as he is sponsored by commercial property investment company Jones Lang LaSalle.

“They have been great over the past four years and not just because of financial help but I have been able to learn a lot from them in terms of business and that is great because one day you have to think about life away from rowing.

“It’s not going to last forever. It’s good for them because they can look at me and learn how to bring what I do as a sportsmen into business and it also helps me to switch off.”

For a moment he has his mind on the future, but not for long.

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