Fuill Name: Darren Campbell
Date of Birth: 1973
Coach: Linford Christie
In 2006, the tributes were paid long and hard to an athlete who had emerged from the indecision of whether he wanted to carry on in the sport to become one of Britain’s most be-medalled performers. Darren Campbell might have left athletics for football at the start of the 1990s, but by the end of his career, there was no doubting he knew the direction he would take. He stood for no nonsense, if he wanted to make a point, he would, and though he bowed out amid controversy at the European Championships in Gothenburg, he will long be remembered as a sprinter who always gave his all and retired having won medals at all four majors - and was part of an historic night at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004.
Having revealed his ability by winning the 200m at the English Schools Championships, Campbell achieved a notable at the European Junior Championships in Thessaloniki in 1991. He won the 100m in 10.46 and the 200m in 20.61, along with gold in the 4 x 100m relay, and though he won silver in both distances at the World Junior Championships, change was not too far away.
Selected for the World Championships in 1993 as part of the relay squad, Campbell was hit then by injuries and in 1994, he switched to his other sporting love - football. He has since claimed that the drugs issue in athletics had contributing to him leaving, and though he had spells with Plymouth and Newport among others, he could never establish himself and in 1995 he returned to the track.
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By 1996, Campbell had lowered his 100m best to 10.17, but he played an unlikely part in ending the Olympic career of the man who became his greatest inspiration. Campbell had been selected for only the 4 x 100m relay but Darren Braithwaite and him were involved in failing to pass the baton in the first round and it meant not only did Britain crash out, but that Linford Christie would not compete on this stage again.
The 1992 Olympic 100m champion would have come into the quartet for the final, had Britain progressed, but it was not to be. The following year Campbell joined up with Christie, who became his coach and the youngster won a major senior medal for the first time in the 4 x 100m relay.
Twelve months later, he became the European 100m champion in Budapest - and did so with Christie cheering him on from the BBC television studio. As Campbell broke from the blocks, Christie could not hold back his excitement as his young protégé held on to triumph in 10.04 ahead of British teammate Dwain Chambers, who was second in 10.10 with Charalambos Papadias, of Greece, third in 10.17. Here was an example of what made Campbell such a mainstay of the British team now he had established himself.
He was never going to have the speed to be a record-breaker - he never dipped under 10 seconds - but he gave everything at the major championships, always being produced to peak at the right time and he gained the deserved reward. He could never be ruled out of making the podium, such was his stunning timing to deliver under the guidance of Christie. Even though he lived in Wales, where he would train with 400m runners Katharine Merry and Jamie Baulch among others, Christie would often drive down for training, but normally set his athletes programmes to follow.
At the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000, Campbell (and Merry who won 400m bronze) followed the coach's advice perfectly when he achieved a moment which at one time in his career might have been beyond his wildest dreams. In the 200m final, Campbell made a fantastic start and was leading along the home straight before he was caught in the final 20m by Konstantinos Kenteris, of Greece, who won in 20.09 with the Briton second in 20.14. It was the first time a British man had made the Olympic 200m podium since Alan Wells 20 years earlier in Moscow. Campbell was ecstatic, dashing to the crowd to find Christie, who was not allowed an official place on the team because of his previous drugs suspension.
Though he missed much of 2001 with injury, by 2002 he savoured the glorious moment of leading England to victory in the 4 x 100m relay at the Commonwealth Games in his hometown of Manchester. The boy from nearby in Moss Side had won bronze in the 200m also, but the European Championships which were to follow in Munich became an event that would change Campbell’s impression of one of his teammates. Campbell finished third in the 100m and was part of the gold medal-winning relay team with Dwain Chambers, who a year later tested positive for the designer steroid Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG).
Chambers then revealed he had been using substances in 2002, when he had won the European 100m title. He lost that, meaning Campbell was promoted to silver but he had the relay gold taken away because the result became null and void as Chambers had been one of the four. But by then Campbell had produced another spectacular Championship moment when he was third in the 100m at the Worlds in Paris, running 10.08 as Kim Collins, of St Kitts & Nevis, took gold in 10.07. The silver medal Campbell won from the 4 x 100m relay in Paris was also taken away after Chambers’ suspension but in 2004, he ran a brilliant second leg to help Britain to one of its most unexpected gold medals ever.
It was the Olympic sprint relay final, where the USA were the clear favourites. But along with the quartet of Jason Gardener, Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis, their speed and brilliant baton changing took them to victory. It was a great irony because in 1996 Campbell had been involved with the error with the stick that saw the team go out. It was the crowning moment of his career and after a disappointing season in 2005, he failed to progress past the semi-final of the 200m at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in March 2006 before announcing that he would probably retire at the end of the summer. Few, though, could have expected it to have finished so dramatically. On the final day of the European Championships in Gothenburg, Britain won 4 x 100m relay gold, a team anchored by Chambers, who had returned from his drugs ban.Campbell had run the second leg but refused to celebrate.
He was angry that Chambers had been allowed to return to the team, because of the message it showed, and when the word ‘hypocrisy’ was used because his coach Christie had served a drugs suspension, Campbell insisted he would not have stayed with him if he thought he had tried to cheat. He remained a man of principle. A few days after Gothenburg, he ran at a minor meeting in Grangemouth, Scotland, winning an invitation 100m and retiring immediately.