Out of the blocks
7 February 2007
By Tom Fordyce
Retirement - a time of afternoon snoozes in front of Countdown, pottering around in the garden and developing an interest in lawn bowls, no?
Possibly not, in the case of Darren Campbell.
I consider myself a relatively busy chap, and I've only got one mobile phone. Campbell, who officially retired from athletics last summer, strolls into our meeting and takes out three.
Yup, three mobile phones. One after the other, laid out on the table, all turned on and awaiting communication.
There's not a Blackberry or PDA among them, either, which raises the possibility of further devices tucked away in his coat pockets.
"I did give myself a bit of time off after last summer," he says, which probably means he left one of the phones turned off overnight on Christmas Day.
Campbell, who hung up his running spikes last August, always was a man for making the most of his time and ability.
In 10 years in senior athletics - including the ones blighted by injury - he won 14 major medals, despite never running under 10 seconds for the 100m - a talent-to-medal conversion ratio that most British sportsmen can only dream of.
His secret, he says, was in his head. Other sprinters might have been faster, or had more impressive physiques, or bigger reputations. But Campbell used those shortcomings to his advantage.
"Before the World Championships in 2003, I read an article in Athletics Weekly on the best British sprinters - and I was only fifth on the list, behind Jason Gardener and Dwain Chambers," he says.
"It was all because I hadn't gone under 10 seconds. So I thought 'right, I'll show you'. I ended up with world 100m bronze, and nearly won gold."
"And people have tried to say, well, that was a slow race - they've tried to lessen the achievement - but it was cold and it was late when we ran, about 10pm. No-one ran fast times."
In an era when doping ripped sprinting apart, Campbell's medal haul could have been even more impressive.
Two of his 14 medals had to be handed back when his GB relay team-mate Chambers admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs.
Campbell has said in the past that one of the reasons he gave up athletics in the early 1990s to play semi-professional football was because there were attempts made to get him to take banned substances.
He also famously refused to take part in the British relay team's lap of honour at last summer's European Championships in protest at the inclusion of Chambers, who had just returned from his doping ban.
"I've lost a lot of medals and a lot of money because of what other people have done," he says.
"At the Europeans, I was just so unhappy about it. At the end of the day you can't hide how you feel. If you know something's wrong, you have to speak out."
"It was bad for the sport I love. I care about athletics, and for me to go out and do a lap of honour - I couldn't do it."
So was Campbell never tempted to take anything, if he knew that some of those beating him were?
"My mum sat me down when I was still quite young, and she told me that it didn't matter to her whether I finished first, fifth or last, as long as I tried my best."
"She's the only person I feel accountable to, plus my wife now. So why would I even think about cheating?"
"You're not only cheating yourself, you're hurting the sport. And you're hurting your family and your friends. How could I look my kids in the eyes if I did that?"
"People can look at me, and my physique, and the times I ran, and the way that I gradually came through, and they can know that I didn't do drugs."
Seasoned Campbell-watchers weren't surprised by his actions in Gothenburg.
He has always worn his heart on his sleeve, to the extent that his detractors have sometimes accused him of being a drama queen - most famously when Michael Johnson accused him of over-playing a hamstring injury at the 2004 Olympics.
Campbell subsequently confronted Johnson at an MTV party in an Athens nightclub.
Two years later, the row was re-ignited when Johnson followed Campbell's Chambers protest by saying: "Here we go again. I'm not shocked, I'm not surprised, but I'm disappointed."
It might sound to outsiders like nothing more than a spot of bickering. But that ignores two key factors - the weight that Johnson's views carry in athletics, and how important the nebulous notion of respect is to Campbell.
"I went up to him and he said, 'Well, that's just my opinion' but I had the doctor's scans to prove my injury," says Campbell.
"People listen to what Johnson says, and people might start believing what he said about me."
"I don't mind him having his opinion, but if I said something and then someone showed me I was wrong, I'd hold my hand up and say - yeah, you were right, I was wrong."
"He questioned my integrity."
"I mean, it's in the past now - if I bumped into him I would speak to him, because I believe in God and that you should forgive and forget, but I do think he should apologise to me for what he said. That's what I would do."
In the meantime, there's his nutritional company to run, and young athletes to mentor, not to mention another year of Street Athletics, the project he runs with his former coach Linford Christie to give young city kids the chance to try sprinting.
There's also reality TV programmes to turn down - Celebrity Poker Club and The Match notwithstanding.
So - busy, yes; successful, yes. But three phones?
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