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VIDEO: Jersey's Super Campbell - a unique Olympian

VIDEO: Jersey's Super Campbell - a unique Olympian

Saturday 20 August 2016

VIDEO: Jersey's Super Campbell - a unique Olympian

Some sporting stories are barely believable and Colin Campbell’s garlanded career safely belongs in that category.

The Corinthian spirit of sport in previous generations cannot be better exemplified as Mr Campbell became the first British track and field athlete to appear at both a Summer and Winter Olympics.

Jersey Olympian Colin Campbell from Bailiwick Express on Vimeo.

“Yes, bobsleigh and running were my two,” he said. “And there was absolutely little or no forward planning for either!”

It all happened totally by chance as two ‘Sliding Doors’ moments in his life led to the pinnacle of sporting achievement. 

Jersey born and bred, Mr Campbell was no ordinary runner as he broke the British 800m record, beat the likes of the great Steve Ovett and appeared in two Olympic Games, plus a Winter Olympics. 

“I was good at sport from a very early age and when I was six my mother formed a badminton club in St Helier. 

“From then until 16 I was a racket player, badminton, tennis and squash. I reached the All-England Badminton Championships as a 16-year-old and reached two junior finals. Only I came up against a Malaysian in both finals who was years ahead of his time so it was two runner-up spots! 

“I wanted to get a bit fitter for the next badminton season so I toddled off to the Jersey Athletic Club and said can I try some running. I was doing well in sport at my school, Victoria College, so I put my hand up for the annual match against Guernsey. They said fill in for us in the junior match at 440 yards, but I told them I’d never run one. They said no problem, jog round with a couple of the seniors and let’s see how you do. I gave it a go and clocked around 52 seconds, finishing about 100 yards ahead of them.    

“They told me to run the senior match so I agreed and ran the second fastest by a British junior that year! It was around sub-51 seconds.  

“After that I thought I would give athletics a go in the summer and play badminton in the winter.”

Mr Campbell was rapidly quicker than anyone in the Island, then started notching up the scalps across the UK, a full international within 18 months of first putting on spikes.

“You have to remember when Sir Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, that morning he had done a shift working as a doctor! It was that sort of era.”   

By 1966 was one of the best one-lappers in the country, but injury halted him going to the Commonwealth Games that year in Jamaica. In 1968 he made the team for the Olympics in Mexico City, where he clocked a “disappointing” 46.1 seconds, reaching the second round. In the relay, he managed 44.9 seconds as GB came fifth.   

He finished 8th in the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh at 800 metres and qualified for the 1972 Olympics in Munich by breaking the British 800m record in a time of 1 minute 46.1 seconds. 

“I’d finished my hard training, but just before the Olympics I pulled a muscle in the arch of my foot and although I had a painkiller in order to race, I could barely get round.”

Mr Campbell competed in the 1974 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand - he beat Ovett in the race-off to be picked - then shortly afterwards read an advert in ‘Athletics Weekly’ calling for bobsleigh volunteers. 

“I was running out of time in athletics so I saw this advert and thought I’d give it a go.  

“I was taken out to a track in Northern Italy and I was dumped into a four-man team, who omitted to tell me this was the fastest track in Europe! Not surprisingly a few of us volunteers dropped out, but I loved it. 

“Again, it was so different to these days as the four-man team was exactly that, four men. We piled everything into the back of a transit van in London, including the bobsleigh and drove to St Moritz.”

He stuck at it, his four-man team coming 13th in the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck - “there were probably only about 20 teams, but again, it was so enjoyable.”

Mr Campbell returned to Jersey, left his banking job and managed the then-new Fort Regent sports complex for eight years. He went back into banking, specifically marketing and his post sent him across the Middle East and southern Africa. 

He then helped set up the tennis facilities at Les Ormes and retired in 2005. 

Mr Campbell, 70, whose garden backs on to the Royal Jersey Golf Club in Grouville, is full of humility for his achievements and keeps a close eye on his former sports. 

He sad: “I can understand the sheer professionalism that is required now. The reason Britain is getting so much success is the funding, which is so carefully targeted towards excellence. They went through a phase of splashing money at a problem but realised it wasn’t working. Now they cherry-pick the best sportsmen and women and concentrate on those athletes with real potential. I believe in the ‘carrot’ approach to sport. Britain lost sight of this initially, but not any longer. You have to provide a big incentive to get results.

“We are now very good at targeting. You can see the sports that have got it to a tee. Look at cycling, rowing and even gymnastics. 

“Atlanta in 1996 was the turning point. We won one gold. They were throwing millions around and nothing was happening. There needed to be a change and there was.”

However, his love for athletics is tempered somewhat by the scourge of the sport in the modern age - drugs.  

“The times they are doing now are quite incredible,” he said. “I suppose like a lot of ex-athletes I have mixed feelings. I watch the sport with great interest and pleasure, but at the same time I retain a certain amount of cynicism and annoyance these days because the governing body will not grab the nettle and really do something about the rampant use of drugs.

“It was starting in my age. There were some very big Russian shot putters, then the East Germans got in on it. 

“Drug use denies fair athletes from getting on the rostrum. It denies them a bigger earning capacity. It also denies their coaches because they have targets to meet. Such a shame.”

Mr Campbell has pictures of his racing days in his study, including one where he is handing the baton to David Hemery, former Olympic gold medalist and BBC Sports Personality of the Year winner.

“He lived with me in London and was a lovely person, but mucky as hell,” he joked. “David was so busy opening this and that he didn’t have time to iron his shirts. He left our flat and came back ten minutes later with six new shirts so he didn’t waste time ironing. Wonderful times and he was a great, great runner.”

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