From lukewarm passion to burning passion: Campbell of Brunswick prepared for his Olympic race | International

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Tony Lawson, then the Brunswick High boys’ outdoor track coach, had to run alone in 2009 after the last school bell rang.

He was trying to chase Luke Campbell – a slim and agile freshman football and basketball player for the Railroaders who, despite a year as a runner and jumper in the Potomac Valley Youth Association – had decided not to join. to the Brunswick athletics team.

Lawson was not fast enough.

“He was gone,” Lawson said of his unsuccessful quest. “He didn’t want anything to do with it. “

Eventually, the two made up for it. And Campbell, following in his older brother Robin’s footsteps on the track, agreed to join Lawson’s ranks in the spring of his sophomore year, though sports aren’t “a big priority” in the boy’s life.

At the end of the next three years, however, sweeping changes took place. For example, at that point Lawson had to tell Campbell, no, actually, he couldn’t bring that starting block or obstacle home to practice in his spare time.

By the end of the next three years, Campbell was an early comer and late in spring training. The track – and especially the hurdles – had become Campbell’s main focus. Its outlet.

Campbell, 26, is now in Japan.

He achieved this after devoting himself entirely to Brunswick. After an unprecedented academic career at Salisbury University, where he fell in love with his event. After moving to Germany – where her mother was born, giving her dual citizenship – to gain a better base to run towards her dreams. After taking all the necessary measures for this purpose. After losing her mother to cancer in early 2020. After using stopping the pandemic as a way to heal her wounds and prepare.

After all that, Campbell is preparing to run the 400-meter hurdles for Germany at the Tokyo Olympics.

Since Lawson wooed him 12 years ago, Campbell’s relationship with the sport of track and field has reached almost 180 degrees – from lukewarm passion to searing passion.

When he learned earlier this month that he had officially made the German Olympic team, Campbell said – by emailing the News-Post – that it was “an indescribable feeling”.

“It was a dream of mine pretty early on,” he said. “During my first year of college I really started to enjoy athletics, and hurdles in particular, but it wasn’t until my second year at Salisbury that I could really imagine going any further. and make those thoughts someday a reality. “

Development

When Lawson finally got his hands on Campbell in 2010, hurdles were a given. Lawson had recognized Campbell’s smooth footwork on the football field, his ability to jump on the basketball court.

“But the most important thing was his height,” Lawson said of Campbell, who is 6 feet 2 inches tall. “He’s extremely tall and thin, so, hey, I was like, let’s give it a try.”

Lawson remembers putting Campbell at ease with the pace of, say, the 110-meter high hurdles: seven steps from the start, three steps between the hurdles. The novice got it “without a hitch,” the coach said.

Campbell began to improve steadily, then began to take off in several events as a junior.

Then there was a hitch. Off road.

Campbell’s parents, Anne and Patrick, had separated. Robin Campbell said Luke solved the difficulty at home by rebelling in certain ways. Not necessarily getting into trouble, but making bad choices that are often presented to teens.

Lawson, who works in law enforcement, heard about it and was not happy. He found an opportunity to intervene, stopped next to Campbell one day and said, “GET IN THE CAR NOW.”

Lawson took Campbell home for a tense reunion with his mother.

Robin said: “They did a good job bringing him back.”

From then on, the track took on many roles for Campbell. It has become a diversion. Comfort. One way to make his parents proud. An accelerator of his thirst to excel.

“It just drove him to do something big,” Robin said.

In May of his senior year at Brunswick, Luke won three state championships in the Class 1A competition, winning both the hurdles and high jump titles, an event Lawson said Campbell was training rarely.

“Then he went to college,” Robin said, “and that was something else.”

Success was swift and sustained for Campbell at Salisbury, a Division III school, even as he adjusted to college life.

He won his first national championship in first year at the 110 high hurdles. Campbell basically didn’t stop winning for the rest of his career. He carved his name in the NCAA record books with a record 11 national titles.

Meanwhile, he began to think about building on his legacy: after college, he might move to Germany – where his parents met when his father was stationed there in the military – to try to represent this. country at the Olympics.

The 400 hurdles quickly became his exclusive event. He went to Germany in 2017 and teamed up with the country’s hurdles coach former Olympic gold medalist Volker Beck.

While learning a new language and culture as a resident of Frankfurt (not far from where two of his uncles live), Campbell also began to dramatically shave his best times as he faced off against the competition. of the elite.

“Germany has a smaller track program,” said Robin, “and with that, you get more of that one-on-one training – and you’ll get bigger in a smaller program.”

In his greatest achievement before Tokyo, Luke Campbell – who receives funding competing for track club LG Eintracht Frankfurt and serving in the Bundeswehr, the German military, as what he called a “sports soldier. »- reached the semi-finals at the 2019 World Championships.

His stay in Germany saw him cultivate an even closer connection with the event that consumed his devotion.

“Since I came back to Germany, I have come to really appreciate my event, because it has become my life in recent years,” he said. “Since then, I have spent a lot of time perfecting my art, analyzing every step, obstacle and movement.

“I see the art in the event.”

The event

The 400-meter hurdles, which has been part of the Men’s Olympic Games since 1900, is a grueling test of speed, endurance and technical fluidity. Distance is generally considered the longest sprint in the sport, but runners must also overcome 10 evenly spaced obstacles. For men, the hedges are 36 inches high.

“The reason it’s exhausting isn’t just because it’s physically demanding,” said John Grim, a longtime local track coach who has worked with the college’s 400 hurdles. “The 400-meter hurdles combine virtually all the fitness and technical parameters of the sport in one race.”

Mount St. Mary’s track coach Jay Phillips says the key to the 400 hurdles is to be a strong and fast runner. But he says it’s easier said than done – because the runner has to lead that speed and pace to a specific location 10 times to overcome obstacles.

“The ones I’ve seen to be the most successful make it feel like it’s effortless,” he said, “but if you know what you’re looking for it’s controlled strength and speed. . “

Grim referred to Edwin Moses, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in the event, as “poetry in motion”.

Phillips said the race is like a ballet dance.

The main challenge is to maintain this strict pace until the end – which can get terribly more difficult after each obstacle. So the last three can be perilous if lethargy begins to set in and the runner’s footsteps get out of hand.

“So much can happen in those last three or four hurdles if you can’t keep up with your pace,” Phillips said.

After the last curve, there are two hurdles left. And, “at this point,” said Grim, “they feel 10 feet tall.”

Technical concentration is essential for the duration.

Campbell’s best time in this event is 49.14 seconds. He is currently eighth in the ranking of the 400 hurdles in Europe, according to worldathletics.com.

He reached that position this season after an inactive 2020. If any track events had taken place during the pandemic, Campbell would have had to experience what he called unbearable pain due to edema in his leg and foot. Once he got over that, a torn calf in December put him on the sidelines for eight weeks.

Unsure he would be able to qualify for the Olympics, Campbell said it was “a stressful time.”

“[The pandemic] was a good thing in a way for him because he was injured, ”said Robin Campbell, who communicates regularly with his brother on WhatsApp. “He’s spent all this year recovering. “

The calf injury meant Luke needed more time to re-acclimatize to his event. When he started competing, however, he was able to start racking up the points needed to qualify for the Olympics through a ranking system.

There are 40 places for the 400 hurdles at the Olympics, he said. Rather than being part of the Olympic team by hitting the qualifying standard of 48.9 seconds, the point values ​​(based on competition size, time and location) for his top five performances were added up and compared to those of other competitors. He said he was ranked 16th out of 40.

“I feel confident heading into the Games,” he said. “I have shown a noticeable improvement every week and I am convinced that I am in better shape now than a year ago.”

He started considering this job years ago, and it’s one that his mom pushed him to support all the time.

Robin said their mother would say to Luke, “Don’t let anything stop you.

The shared dream

Luke Campbell returned to Frederick County in December 2019 to spend the vacation at home. But around this time, Anne – who had battled colorectal cancer for two and a half years – saw her health decline. Doctors said she was running out of time.

Anne had always expressed the certainty that her son would reach the Olympic stadium. When Lawson met her in 2019, she thanked him for what he had done for her son. And, Lawson said, she was adamant that Luke would be heading to Tokyo.

“Like, she just knew,” Robin said.

It was a dream she shared with her son. But he will live it without her, representing the country where she was born, the place where he was able to go – because of her – to help achieve his greatest ambition.

Anne passed away in January 2020.

“We got to see her in her final moments,” Robin said. “We have to talk to him and let it all hang out. It has helped a lot.

Luke may not have his mother present when he nods to the starter pistol on Thursday in Tokyo, but he’s also adamant about something: she will be with him every step of the way. Out of the blocks, between the obstacles, over them.

And certainly in that crucial home stretch – when a hurdler somehow has to keep everything together despite the threat of exhaustion.

Don’t let anything stop you.

“She was really my biggest fan,” said Campbell, “and I always carry her strength and energy whenever I step on the track before running, wherever she is in the universe.”


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