Olympic rower Alan Campbell dreaming of gold in Rio
Alan Campbell can see it now, rowing towards an Olympic gold medal in Rio with the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue in the background.
Quite a dream that you might say. Well, for Alan it’s been a virtual reality for the past two weeks because he has been training on the course where the Olympics will take place in 2016.
Talk about getting a head start on the opposition.
Campbell, of course, won a Single Sculls bronze medal at London 2012 — his tears on the rostrum becoming one of the most memorable images from the Games.
The 29-year-old’s efforts earned him a Special Achievement award earlier this week at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, along with Northern Ireland’s other Olympic medallists, fellow rowers Richard Chambers and Peter Chambers and boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan.
Campbell was presented with his trophy in Coleraine recently as he couldn’t attend the ceremony in Belfast because of his trip to Brazil.
“I was invited by the Brazilian rowing federation to come out and train with their guys. It is quite a big honour and I was pretty chuffed about it,” explained the fun loving Campbell.
Smiling, he added: “It all stemmed from the fact during London 2012 I kept talking at the Brazilian sculler. Not with him, but at him!
“Even though I don’t think he understood me we got on well. I was also speaking to other Brazilian rowers talking about them having a home Olympics next time and I was invited to go out there so me and my coach Bill Barry decided to do it to see the lay of the land.
“The course is iconic because it is actually at the foot of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue. We will row away at the start with Christ the Redeemer in the background.
“The water on the course exists and while a floating pontoon for the grandstand has to be erected I’m getting the essence and spirit of the place.
“It’s a huge motivation for me moving forward for the next three-and-a-half years.”
Campbell finished fifth in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and after his third place in London, now only the number one position is on his mind for Brazil.
Always fascinating to listen to, when you speak to the impressive Campbell you never feel short changed.
“I’ve won three world championship medals and an Olympic medal and I can say that I am fairly satisfied and pretty proud, but I still haven’t stood on the middle of that podium at a world championships or Olympics and that’s what I really want to do,” said Campbell.
In Alan’s event, Single Sculls, that is easier said than done.
Imagine if you are a footballer taking on Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in a skills, dribbling and scoring contest.
Essentially in rowing terms that’s what Campbell has to do.
He happens to be rowing at the same time as arguably the two finest single scullers to ever sit in a boat — New Zealand’s Mahe Drysdale and Ondrej Synek from the Czech Republic, who finished ahead of the Ulsterman in a stunning Olympic final at Eton Dorney in the summer.
In the post race press conference Campbell said Drysdale and Synek were the best of all time.
Several months on, when I bring it up, he says: “Yes and I stand by that statement. I was hugely honoured to stand side-by-side on the podium that day with them, but I want to beat them next time.
“They have committed to the next Olympics, but whether they go all the way in the Single Sculls, I don’t know.
“My heart is still with the Single Sculls. I really do love that event, but if it gets to the case that I'm banging my head against a brick wall and the two guys are too good it is something I would have to look at in the next few years.
“Whatever happens though I want to be in Rio and I want to win gold.”
Before the Olympics, Campbell will row in this year’s World Championships in South Korea and in Amsterdam in 2014.
You know though that while those competitions are hugely important, the Rio Olympics top Alan’s list. History tells him that 2016 may just be his time.
He says: “I'm always very positive and try to take all I can
from different situations. Something that I take real hope from is that the last two Olympic champions in my event have both been 33 years of age — Mahe in 2012 and Olaf Tufte in 2008.
“In Rio I will be 33 so I'm bang on the number to be an Olympic champion in 2016.
“It is an endurance based race and suits a person at or around that age.
“I know that I can improve and will improve in the run up to the next Olympics.
“I also know I’ll have great support in trying to achieve my goal and getting a prize like the Special Achievement award from the Belfast Telegraph means a lot to me. It spurs me on and gives me real encouragement.
“I intend working harder than ever knowing that I can get better each year from here on in.”
My mum and dad are my inspirations says medal hungry Coleraine star
Ask Alan Campbell to name who inspires him most and he doesn’t need any time at all to think about the answer.
“My mum and dad,” he says, quicker than he takes one of those powerful strokes when he is rowing on the river.
The big man is all about the family.
Brought up on a farm by parents Jenny and William, this only child may have moved to England to pursue his rowing career, but for Alan home is clearly where the heart is.
He says: “My mum and dad are inspirational to me, mainly in the fact that they are such good, honest people who have given me a great set of values to live by and follow. My dad is an extremely hard worker and my mum can talk for Ulster. That must be where I get my chat from. They do inspire me and genuinely I feel very lucky to be their son.”
The more I get to know Alan Campbell the more I think his offspring will be fortunate too.
Forthcoming as always, he reveals: “My wife Jules and I would like to start a family.
“Who knows by the time the next Olympics come around I could be a father.”
Alan will have plenty to tell his kids about when the subject of London 2012 crops up.
His bronze medal winning performance was followed by an outpouring of emotion when the shattered rower wept buckets. There wasn’t a dry eye among 30,000 fans at Eton Dorney.
“It was emotional, there’s no doubt about that,” recalls Alan.
“I think a lot of people saw the seven minutes that the race played out in, but for me there was all the other stuff that came before that.
“It's the journey that gets you there, the hard work, the training, the mishaps everything that takes you up to that point and after the race I guess everything that I'd gone through came flooding out.
“You think about all the people who helped you along the way and what an Olympic medal means to them.”
He continued: “I do feel very lucky to be doing what I do.
“Being an athlete is one of the most selfish professions in the world, but I hope that I haven't been totally selfish during my career and that I've given other people something to get behind and be excited by.
“I also hope that people feel uplifted by the exploits of what they see as one man in a boat.
“To me of course it is a huge team effort with many people involved. In the Olympics there were 250 strokes in that final.
“I know my mum and dad took quite a few strokes for me, my wife did the same, so did my coach, you probably took a few strokes for me too as well as all the thousands of people who were in the stands cheering me on and not forgetting the people back in Northern Ireland and in Coleraine town centre when the race was on.
“They all had a part to play. I can't really explain how much all of that support means, but hopefully we’ll do it all over again in 2016.”
Questions for Alan
Q: Who were your heroes growing up?
A: Sir Steve Redgrave was a big hero of mine. He did so much for rowing and to win five Olympic gold medals from 1984 to 2000 was incredible. I think his achievements have helped put British rowing in the strong place it is today.
Q: Any other sporting heroes?
A: Willie John McBride because my mum would always tell me about his exploits on the rugby field. Rugby was one of my first loves. David Humphreys as well would be a hero for me. I was at Lansdowne Road in Dublin when he led Ulster to European Cup final glory in 1999.
Q: What are your hobbies?
A: I like to go out and eat and socialise with my friends during my downtime. Also if I get the chance I like to go out and water-ski. I worked at the water-ski school in Coleraine for three summers and really love to get out on the river and water-ski instead of rowing. Also I enjoy travelling and seeing different places.
Q: What's it like being more famous in Coleraine than Jimmy Nesbitt?
A: (Laughs long and hard.) That's not true at all. (more laughing). It's funny I was at the Bushmills Inn earlier this month for my mum's birthday and somebody did ask me to come over for a photograph. I was wondering if they had mistaken me for someone else. My mum is a bit of a local celebrity in Coleraine. She has taught half the people in Coleraine and we can never get from one end of the town to the other without people stopping and talking to her. I now in my own right can get stopped. I feel quite proud of that.