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Olympic bronze medal for Northern Ireland rower Alan Campbell

Alan Campbell has won a bronze medal in the men's single sculls. New Zealand's Mahe Drysdale took the gold.

If Alan Campbell had not been persistent, he might never have found the sport that made him an Olympic bronze medallist.

Before he tried rowing for the first time as a 13-year-old schoolboy his athletic endeavours certainly did not suggest to his parents they had a future GB star on their hands.

"His potential didn't come through for a long time," laughed mum Jennifer.

"In primary school he didn't show any sporting potential, what he did show was tremendous enthusiasm for sport and tremendous determination to get into sport.

"He tried lots and lots of different sports - football, rugby, cricket, tennis, swimming, archery and volleyball.

"But he showed absolutely no potential and didn't have any success in any of them.

"Then when he was 13, on my suggestion, he went down to the river and tried rowing. And he's never looked back."

Before he caught the sporting bug, he had given some consideration to more traditional vocations.

"In primary three he wrote that he would like to be a farmer or a minister," said Mrs Campbell, herself a primary school principal.

"I know where he got the farmer thing from because his dad William is from a farming family and so am I, but I've no idea where he got the minister idea from."

Campbell, 29, was born and raised in the town of Coleraine on the banks of Northern Ireland's picturesque River Bann.

This is serious rowing territory, as a cursory glance at the Team GB squad testifies.

Brothers and lightweight four silver medalists Richard and Peter Chambers are also Coleraine men, forged by the waters of the Bann.

After attending Irish Society's Primary School, Campbell went on to the Coleraine Academical Institution grammar school, the same school as Richard Chambers.

There he received tutelage from veteran coach Bobby Platt, who is now in his 90th year.

In 1999 his potential really started to shine when he clinched an under 16 Irish title.

"Ireland would like to have claimed him as their own then but Alan actually headed off to sixth form college in England with a view to having a career in the army," explained his mum.

After two years at Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College in Woodhouse, Leicestershire, he went to military college in Shrivenham, Oxfordshire.

"In 2nd year he gave up any idea of being an officer and then went into rowing full time," said Mrs Campbell.

Campbell competed in Athens in 2004 in the quad sculls, coming in a disappointing 12th.

Having shifted his focus to single sculls, he placed 5th in the 2008 Beijing Games after overcoming major illness problems to even compete.

He married wife Juliette last year and now lives in Richmond in England.

The opportunities to return to Coleraine are now limited - his last trip was at Christmas.

"Like every Christmas Day I was up with him at 6.10am to make his porridge," recounted his mother.

"He runs the east strand in nearby Portrush and then up and down the sand dunes, never fewer than 20 times.

"He runs up and down the beach, through the water because it is tougher.

"His thinking is that when he's training on Christmas he hopes his opponents will be having a restful Christmas.

"It was things like that he figured would make the difference come the Olympics in 2012."

Belfast Telegraph


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