Campbell is back on medal hunt
This week marked 800 days to go until the start of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and while it may seem a long time off what happens this year for Coleraine's Alan Campbell may determine if he'll compete, in what would be his fourth Olympics, in his favourite event, the men's single sculls.
Campbell took extended time away from the sport following his bronze medal at London 2012 and last year at the World Championships. It contributed to him missing out on a podium finish for the first time since his injury plagued Beijing Olympic campaign in 2008.
A minor operation on a wrist injury this winter forced him to miss valuable training time and he could only manage third in the recent Great Britain trials.
However his success and reputation saw him selected for the European Championships that begin today in Belgrade but he knows that the next few months, culminating in the World Championships in Amsterdam at the end of August, are pivotal moving forward.
"This is a massive year," Campbell admits.
"I think I have to prove that I am capable of being a world champion or at least among the medals and in doing so prove that I am able to move forward and with the potential of becoming an Olympic champion in the single.
"It's a big ask but I have to prove it eventually and I think this is a make or break year for me in terms of going forward as the single sculler.
"There is added pressure there but it is one of those things, I should have done it already and now there is a sense of urgency.
"Questions will be raised if I can't come forward this year and put in a performance where I'm pushing for the gold."
The European Championships aren't an event that Great Britain would normally send a full strength squad to but with the first of the three World Cup regattas in Australia back in March, this is a substitute for that with two more World Cups to come followed by the World Championships, not that this weekend's challenge won't be tough enough for Campbell with world champion and Olympic silver medalist Ondrej Synek from the Czech Republic and German Marcel Hacker in the field.
After spending 2013 in a lightweight double scull the Chambers brothers, Richard and Peter are back in the lightweight four, the boat they won silver in at London 2012. So to is Chris Bartley with newcomer Mark Aldred completing the quartet.
As this is their first outing in international competition this weekend, the goal is to find out where they stand against the likes of Denmark and Italy.
"We're aiming to win it, that's all we're going there to do. It's an event I've never been to but it's a big championship, a chance to call yourself a European champion," explained Richard. "The process with the four for Rio really starts now and we have to see where we stand but this is a boat that is capable of producing some top notch results right now," he added.
There is a six-strong Irish team in Belgrade including Enniskillen's Leonora Kennedy who rows in the women's pair with Lisa Dilleen.