James Sullivan is back with another interview with one of Ireland’s Olympic hopefuls, 800m runner David Campbell.
David Campbell is an elite middle distance runner from County Kildare, Ireland, who specialises in the 800 metres. He represented Ireland at the 2006 European Championships in Gothenburg and the 2007 World Championships in Osaka. His PB of 1:45.59, set at the Bislett Games in Oslo in 2009, puts him 4th on the Irish all-time list for the event.
James: Thank you for taking the time to talk to The Running Review. Easy question first, how did you first get involved in athletics?
David: Athletics training started straight after GAA training at my local club in Maynooth. A few of my mates did both so I joined in to hang out and have fun. I was 9 years old I think.
James: Did you have a particular athletics idol growing up?
David: My first athletics memory was the Carl Lewis versus Mike Powell jump-off in Seoul, so early on I wanted to be a long jumper. My father John, my brother Phil and I dug a long jump pit in the garden, and filled it with ‘borrowed’ sand from the beach. It was good craic. I never really had a particular idol. I just get pumped by great sporting performances, and far more so if they have an Irish vest on or if I know them well.
James: At what moment in your life did you realise that athletics would become more than just a hobby for you?
David: In 2004 I was coming to the end of my undergrad degree and I was running shit-house. I ran about 1.56 (800m) and 4.12 (1500m) which was more stressful than enjoyable. I was working, boozing, maybe 12 kilos bigger than I am now and I had every excuse to run poorly. I had come to a cross roads to either never run a step again and get a job like my mates or stop making excuses and have a crack so at least when I’m on a barstool at 70 I’ll know how good I was, not be romanticising how good I could have been. I made a plan and a pact with myself to do everything I could to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. That was my turning point.
James: What one moment in your career to date are you most proud of?
David: The proudest single moment I’ve experienced is toeing the line at the World Championships in Osaka 2007. I was hospitalised with a mystery illness a couple of days before the race, losing 8 kilos of body weight in a matter of hours. I was wiped and I had to fight my corner just to be allowed race in that condition, which I did, running 1.46 and just missing out on a semi-final placing. At least by competing I wasn’t left wondering what if.
James: What would you describe as the most disappointing moment in your athletics career? What positives have you taken from it?
David: How the 2008 Beijing Olympic B standards affair was managed. My thoughts are well documented on the topic.
James: What are your goals for 2012?
David: My goal is to put myself in the best possible situation to qualify for the Olympic Games in London.
James: You have recently spent some time in Melbourne training with Nic Bideau’s group. What were your reasons behind the decision to train in Australia? How has training with the likes of Jeff Riseley benefited you? How would you describe the experience?
David: Coming to Australia has worked for me in the past, so I just wanted to replicate that and give myself the best possibility of qualifying for London. There’s a real family feel to MTC (Melbourne Track Club), a great camaraderie, a great environment to train in. Myself and Ryan Gregson worked out one day that there are 19 equivalent current sub 4 minute milers in the group, everyone with something positive to add to the atmosphere. It’s fun down there. No politics, no bullshit, just everyone moving towards their goals.
James: What would an average week of training be like at this time of the year, specifically in terms of key sessions?
David: Ideally base phase, so generally 3 sessions. Long intervals, threshold run, some hills, add in a long run, few gym sessions, some strides, a few easy runs and that’s pretty much it.
James: With regards speed work, what do you consider to be the key sessions for an 800m runner?
David: My experience is to get a real good base phase in, keep contact with your speed with strides and drills throughout the year and I like to use 800 m races as speed work for 800s. There’s no magic session that lets you know you’re ready to go. Just get fit and you’ll run well over any distance.
James: What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?
David: Once I’m running I’m happy. Probably long runs I enjoy most, especially after a race day in a far flung corner of the world. It’s a great way of getting the feel for a new town or city, meeting new people, hearing their stories, taking in the experience.
James: Do you feel athletics in Ireland gets its fair share of funding or can more be done to help the sport develop?
David: Everyone would like more money, of course they would but when the economy is steadily declining, the AAI perhaps could be focusing on how to be more efficient with the funds they do get. There seems to be a lot of waste there. Also with the current running boom in Ireland and the hundreds of thousands of people who do run right now, there needs to be a way of tapping into that market, raising independent funds allowing AAI to function more independently.
James: It seems that the challenge of competing on the world stage without funding is not always understood and appreciated by the general public. Do you feel that athletes in Ireland sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve off the Irish media when compared to comparable achievements by individuals and teams in the more popular and better funded sports such as rugby and football?
David: It’s up to the general public to support whatever captures their imagination. In my opinion team sports achieve this by making fans feel part of the experience, part of a team, which is supported and made accessible by media coverage. It’s very hard to do this with individual sport such as athletics in the current system. I feel the sport is in trouble and unless there is a massive overall from the top down, athletes achievements will be less and less appreciated. I think the way forward is to get rid of clocks from athletics. It works with horses and greyhounds. I would then create a qualification path which wasn’t focused on times but on racing to get to World/Olympic level competition. Tactical races are so much more interesting than time trials. It would create a story for people to follow several months of the year, give the media more time to create characters for the public.
James: What can be done to help the sport gain more media exposure in Ireland? Were you disappointed that there were no Irish broadcasters in Daegu to cover the 2011 World Championships?
David: The problem is indicative of what’s happening all around the world. Athletics is being crowded out in the media because the major athletics associations are failing to recognise the sport is hurtling from one of the major world sports to a minority sport. They need to make big time athletics accessible to the public, by paying the big TV networks & media outlets to show our sport on prime time TV regularly and build it up again to where it should be, the greatest sport in the world.
James: As I am sure you have noticed, in Melbourne there exists a vibrant grassroots culture in track and field through competitions such as the AV Shield and the Vic Milers Club. In Ireland, could more be done to get the regular Joe Soap, regardless of age or ability, onto the track rather than having a disproportionate number of participants in our sport competing in road races, fun runs and marathons? Should track running be made more accessible to the everyday runner?
David: My experience is people are daunted by tracks, daunted by clubs and they see it as an elite activity and with all due respect they are probably right. I think if athletics clubs linked themselves to our once partner the GAA, and formed stronger ties with the FAI, & IRFU, everyone could benefit. Athletics is a sport which works symbiotically with all other sports and sections of society, and is our unique quality. I feel there has always been great respect there from other sports towards athletics and they are crying out to have athletic clubs add their wealth of knowledge to assist their own sport. If this could be achieved it would break down the walls and create a vibrant athletics and sporting future for Ireland. And for people who don’t have access to sport, the first place you get people interested in athletics is in schools. There is no strategy here to develop athletics in schools which is crazy. Perhaps athletes on the cusp of funding should be given roles to visit schools in their locality, up the profile of themselves, the sport, the association and get paid to do so. That’s a simple win win to me.
James: What are your views on athletes with B-Standards being sent to the Olympic Games?
David: Of course B standards should be sent. Athletes are just the boy or girl down the road, who put their lives on hold for the best years of their lives with no monetary gain to achieve a dream of representing their country at an Olympic Games. The village they’re from gets a lift from someone qualifying, the kids on the street develop local heroes and perhaps get inspired. The next string of athletes realise there’s actually a point to working their asses off every day that they can achieve their dream too. The B standard in 2012 is far harder than an A standard in 2000. Athletes should be rewarded for their inspirational endeavours.
James: When not competing, do you enjoy watching athletics? What current athlete do you like watching the most?
David: I like supporting people that I know personally. I enjoy watching brilliance like Rudisha and Bolt. Other than that I find the powers that be package athletics very poorly to a TV audience. There needs to be more imagination to bring athletics into 2012.
James: That’s great David. Thank you for your time and the very best of luck in 2012.
David: No worries James. Keep up the good work.