Reflecting on a path to Olympic glory that once saw her race boys on the streets of Trelawny in her bare feet as a youngster, Veronica Campbell-Brown feels like the chosen one.
“When I was young I realised I always enjoyed running," says the 32-year-old Jamaican sprinter.
“I feel like I had an innate gift that I was born with to run. From primary school, to college and to being a professional. To build on this, I was blessed to have a lot of people help me in the process.
“I think I realised in primary school, around 10, that I had a chance. I would run a lot and I would win. I would beat the girls, I would beat the boys and I realised there was something special about this gift that I had.
“It’s a blessing to be out there, it’s my passion and the joy I bring to many people when I compete, it’s a blessing. Sometimes I reflect and learn from how far I came. I remember running barefoot in Trelawny, and the whole process to where I am now is just awesome.
“That was back in my primary school days, between nine and 11 years old. I enjoyed community races so I would compete barefoot on the streets. A lot of the younger guys in the community liked to challenge me to racing so I would enjoy it. I didn’t have sneakers, or spikes, so of course I had to run in my feet. But I was young, it was fun.”
Fun it may have been, but Campbell-Brown Brown – a guest at the 2014 Doha GOALS Forum – had focus too from an early age. Brought up in a large family of five brothers and four sisters, she admits “that motivated me and helped me to be competitive”.
It also provided the work ethic that remains visible to this day as she looks to add to her impressive haul of three Olympic golds, including becoming only the second woman in history to win consecutive 200 metre events with triumphs in 2004 and 2008.
“My parents worked really hard and the importance of hard work was instilled in me,” she adds. “I knew if I had a gift I had to do everything I could to make the best of it. That’s what my parents did.
“I also like to give back in life. I like to make sure the way I live my life I can influence young people. I have a foundation that gives a scholarship to girls in high school in Jamaica and we have mentorship programmes.
“I want to be remembered for not only what I have achieved in the sport but for being an inspiration to others – and helping others.”
Her exploits include 100m and 200m gold at the World Championships but she hopes to achieve more following the nightmare when she tested positive for diuretics in June, 2013.
Vehemently protesting her innocence – with the substance, Lasix, contained in a cream which she had used for a leg injury – the Court of Arbitration for Sport finally cleared her of the charges in April and ruled that the Jamaican Athletics Administrative Association’s (JAAA) doping procedures did not comply with required international standards. At a time when some top track stars have been banned for doping, including Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, it was a relief for Campbell-Brown to win her appeal.
She said: “I’m happy the court was able to see my inner sense and I’m happy to do what I love. I’ve been very honest, honest with all my competitors and I win fairly and lose fairly. It’s the way I was raised. It is very tough to go through something like this, but as long as the person knows the truth in their heart, the truth will set them free.
“I can sleep at night because I know my life, I know that I work hard and I know I have good people in my life and I know I have never cheated in my career. It doesn’t matter what people say, I know in my heart what God, my friends and family know. That’s the only thing that matters.
“It is sad when people talk about athletes and doping. God has given us gifts and there are a lot of talented athletes in the world and a lot of people are doing it honestly.
“Yes, you may have a few people who want it the easy way, but it’s a blessing to go out there and compete hard and not everybody is being dishonest. A lot of people are working hard and by doing this, achieving greatness. I put the pressure on myself because I love what I do. And in life we should always look to get better at what we do.”
Her love for the sport was enhanced by watching her idol and compatriot Merlene Ottey make her mark on the track during an amazing career that has since seen her become a Slovenian citizen and anchor their 4x100m relay team at the 2012 European Athletics Championships, aged 52. Ottey has won 29 medals in the 100m and 200m, including nine at the Olympics but never a gold.
“She’s my role model, very talented and a good human being,” says Campbell-Brown, who went to the same Vere Technical High School as Ottey.
“She’s always supportive. Even now when I finish a race she will shoot me an email and congratulate me, and tell me what she likes and what she doesn’t like. She’s a very big supporter and very good person. In 2000 when I made the Olympic team for the first time, I was the youngest there, 18, and some females weren’t so nice to me, so to speak.
“But Merlene was always nice, always kind and made it easy for me. Training and all that stuff like competing, she’s been positive, like a big sister. I really admire her perseverance and courage. I don’t know if I will run as long as she has, but we have to see what happens each year.” For Campbell-Brown her immediate target is the World Championships in Beijing next August, with the Olympics to follow and then perhaps a swansong at the 2017 worlds in London.
She added: “These next three years are my target. After that, I don’t know what will happen. I’m taking one season at a time. My main focus is on the worlds in Beijing, and Rio is in my subconscious.
“I’m working hard at both events, the 100m and 200m. I have achieved more in the major championships in the 200m but I want to do well in both. It would be special if I could win golds in both.
“Winning the 200m gold in Athens in 2000 was a real dream come true. I remember when I was a young girl in high school in Jamaica, one of my biggest wishes was to win an individual gold medal at the Olympics.
“I didn’t care what event, but that was my biggest wish. When it came true, it was a great feeling. When you achieve that dream, it shows anything is possible if you put your mind to it and work hard for it. It was very emotional on the podium, like wow, is this happening? I dreamed, I worked hard, I received.”