Darren Campbell admits, with a chuckle, that comments he recently made on a British radio show have landed him in a little hot water.
Speaking as part of a BBC discussion on whether athletics is clean, the Olympic gold medallist turned pundit stated that he would not encourage any of his three children to take up the sport as a career.
Coming from such a respected athlete – one who has made his anti-drugs stance clear – this assertion was taken as a tacit admission that the IAAF is losing its battle with doping. “I guess in a way I didn’t get the chance to fully explain,” Campbell says. “I mean as a career.
There’s nothing with kids’ athletics, there’s nothing wrong with anything like that, but once you decide to take it up as a career then what are you actually letting yourself in for? That’s the scary thing.”
The programme was aired in the wake of a German television documentary that claimed the IAAF had failed to investigate 150 suspicious blood samples. It was the latest in a long line of scandals to hit a sport that has fought a very long and public battle with synthetic drugs, that has involved some of its biggest names.
“With the revelations that have come out over the last couple of months,” Campbell – part of Britain’s gold-medal winning 4x100m team at the 2004 Olympics – continues.
“It just raises suspicion for one, but then when you’ve been an athlete yourself and you’ve heard rumours when you were involved in the sport that certain people get protected, it just makes you feel like maybe they do. Because things like this that come back from the past damage the sport, and people are already sceptical.”
He adds: “The bottom line is the sport has been damaged. There has to come a point when the sport needs to decide to, I guess, protect and rebuild its reputation.
“You can’t have hundreds of tests come out from the past saying this has happened, and this has happened – it’s just not right.”
Doping has haunted athletics for longer than many would care to admit, while the lure of gaining an artificial edge is as old as competitive sport itself.
Six of the 10 fastest men in history have failed doping tests, a stat that has sullied the reputation of sprinting.
Campbell says the perception of athletics needs to be rebuilt, noting with resignation that a recent article he read on British success provoked four comments, two of which questioned the validity of the athletes.
The influence of the Mancunian’s mother ensured he spurned the offer of drugs as a young athlete, and while he ultimately missed out on individual Olympic sprint gold to athletes that have since been embroiled in doping scandals, he does not hold a grudge.
“I am somebody who has been cheated out of medals because of it, but I think if I walked around bitter then, I couldn’t work on radio,” the 41-year-old says laughing.
“Because the bitter tone would come across, and that’s why I made such a statement that I wouldn’t encourage my own children to do the sport.
“When I was a child at the age of 12 and I watched Carl Lewis win four Olympic gold medals, for me it was all about standing on that podium. Obviously I didn’t know anything about drugs and it was about being the best that I could be and dreaming, I guess, above my station.
“And I think these things are so pure, and so innocent, that actually when you decide to take up the sport as a career and you find out that people are cheating, it makes a mockery of it all.” So, does he believe that young athletes are faced with a straight choice between being successful and staying clean?
“I don’t think it’s got to that stage and I think that things like the blood passports make it a lot more difficult for people to cheat,” Campbell says.
“When I was first approached, I think it was because I was from a council estate, because I was a rough kid and maybe I seemed the type that would go down that path. But I was very fortunate in that it was never a decision that I had to make because my mum had already warned me that the day that I felt that I needed to take drugs, stop. It’s not that important.
“And that’s the thing, why is it that important that you have to take drugs? “I don’t understand it – because if it’s solely about money there are other ways away from sport that you can earn money illegally if that’s what you want to do.
“Because that is really what we’re talking about, although it’s not a criminal offence, it’s immoral. It might as well be illegal, you’re robbing people.” Perhaps the biggest heist is yet to come. One man has run faster than the six who were caught doping, and while there is no suggestion that Usain Bolt has used drugs, athletics would find it tough to recover from their own ‘Lance Armstrong’ moment. “I said on the show, if Usain Bolt tests positive I’m done,” Campbell adds.
“How can I talk about something that I don’t believe? That would make me a hypocrite. “And while I’ve still got the belief that people are going out there, and it’s just the minority that are deciding to take the wrong path, then I continue to fight for what’s right and fight for the rights of those athletes that are trying to do it the right way.”
Campbell now aims to ensure athletes put the right things in their bodies, through his nutrition company Pro Athlete Supplementation (PAS). All of the ingredients that PAS use are rigorously tested for cross-contamination in order to create a “safe-haven for sports people”.
The Commonwealth Games and European Championships 100m winner – when not working as a sprint coach with football clubs including Chelsea and Cardiff City – is also heavily involved in getting youngsters active thanks to his involvement with Sky Sports and the Youth Sport Trust.
Campbell ultimately believes athletics in its purest form is a force for good, and his passion for it remains undimmed. “It is the sport that you learn first when you’re in infant school, when you’re five or six at sports day,” he adds.
“So, athletics has a massive part to play in lots of different sports – and that’s why it is important that the integrity of the sport is upheld, because without integrity you haven’t got anything.”
Ethiopian running legend Haile Gebrselassie gives us his top four tips for a successful Dubai Marathon and tells us which song kept him motivated during his 10,000m World Record Record.
For a man of such awe-inspiring achievements, Haile Gebrselassie is remarkably disarming in person.
The wiry 41-year-old is an elite member of the long-distance running pantheon, rising from a farm in Ethiopia to become a double Olympic gold medallist and fivetime world champion over 10,000m.
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As if that success wasn’t enough, nine marathon victories – including a trio of consecutive triumphs at the Dubai Marathon from 2008 to 2010 – followed in the second half of his career after turning his hand to the most gruelling racing discipline in the world.
Gebrselassie mixed freely at the Mall of the Emirates yesterday evening (Wednesday) at adidas’ Supernova Glide Boost stand, raising cheers as he gamely pounded the floor pads on a marathon simulator.
Bedecked in his sponsors’ gear at their store, he was even mistaken for a shop attendant as a child enquired whether he had one of the German brand’s trainers in a size 6.
The potentially embarrassing episode was met with the same trademark smile that beamed from the top step of the podium at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.
Humility radiates from one of sport’s finest statesmen. He is now a successful businessman employing 1,600 people and determined to one day make a positive impact in Ethiopian politics.
This attitude extends to his memories of one of athletics’ greatest moments when asked about it by Sport360°, feeling unnecessarily guilty when recollecting his 0.09 seconds victory 15 years ago against Kenyan rival Paul Tergat that followed a blistering final kick from the pair which lit up the Sydney Games.
"Thinking about the past, most of the things I did were the best" – Gebrselassie
“With Paul Tergat, the race in 2000 in Sydney was amazing,” he said. “When I think about Paul, I can say he was not lucky,
“Paul was a very strong athlete. Even sometimes I blame myself, but what can you say?
“Paul was a perfect athlete. He was a good athlete in the same period of time.
“Both of us should have won the gold in Sydney.
” Gebrselassie is at pains to state he is not retired from running. Not surprising when as late as the 2013 BUPA Great North Run he finished third, slightly more than 30 seconds behind anointed successor Kenenisa Bekele and reigning Olympic and world champion Mo Farah.
New challenges exist after entering his fifth decade. Property, coffee and mining businesses keep the successful entrepreneur busy enough to delay entry into Ethiopian politics beyond this May’s elections.
But his time in public service will come, as he said: “I have to do a lot in my businesses. Those businesses have to be put in a proper way.
“A lot of people have asked me about being in the parliament. But one of the businesses I have just started is gold mining, and it is a really hard one and takes an awful lot of my time.
“For me, I want to share my experience. People ask why I want to get involved in politics, and they think I just want the position.
“It is not like that. I want to think about my country and change Ethiopia in a good way.
“It is not an easy experience what I did all around the world. I travelled for the last 25 years, it is not easy being in more than 100 countries,” he added.
A morning regimen of runs keeps Gebrselassie lean, cutting a similar figure to the one that first posted notice of his potential with 5,000m and 10,000m gold at the 1992 Junior World Championships.
Despite cutting down on his elite-level racing commitments, he admitted “it is not easy to step back” after such highs.
“We don’t talk about the retirement – I am still running,” said Gebrselassie, who has set 27 world records. “I have not done so much recently as I had an injury in my chest after falling down in the forest.
“Running is everything. All my life I have been running, I competed for 27 years.
“For me, I don’t see it as such a long time. I am doing good now, even though I don’t do what I did six or seven years ago.
“Every morning, 05:35, I am going to the forest and doing my morning session in an easy way.
“It is not easy to step back when you have been at such a high level. I not only had many good years, but also difficulties, problems and great achievements on the track – thinking about the past, most of the things I did were the best.
” Gebrselassie is in Dubai for this weekend’s Standard Chartered Dubai marathon, which will see 25,000 -plus people take to the streets.
The city and athlete have a reciprocal relationship. He claimed a trio of victories while his very presence elevated the race to the highest echelons of the marathon calendar.
“Dubai is a very special place,” he said. “Many people know it more for shopping and tourism.
“But many people come for the Dubai Marathon. I have been in this marathon three times, and it is really fantastic"
The competitive zeal remains which saw him disappointed to miss out on breaking his own world record in Dubai six years ago, despite finishing well ahead of countryman Deressa Chimsa at 2:05:29.
The determination has been transferred to his business ventures. A valuable portfolio has been built up in the last few years, successfully swapping his running spikes for sharp suits.
He refuses to hang up his vest just yet though, athletic competition remaining intrinsic.
A new vanguard led by tomorrow’s star draw Bekele will do well to follow in the footsteps of a man for whom life remains “another tournament” to conquer.
He said: “In sport, if you are No1 you take everything. It influences you a lot, It is the same in business. That’s why nowadays I have 1,600 people working in my company.
I do farming, hotels, schools. It is another tournament.”