Darren Campbell is certain Britain’s team in Moscow for the World Athletics Championships next week will be the most confident track and field squad ever to leave these shores. The reason, he says, is: “Our sense of inferiority towards the Americans has gone. Now no British athlete is scared of them. There has been a sea change.

“I used to stand on the starting line against the Americans and they’d talk of getting out of the ghetto and how they had made it. You would hear all this American talk and you’d be afraid.

“My background was 100 per cent like the Americans. I grew up on a council estate on Moss Side. My mother did various jobs, including cleaning, to put hot food on the table. But in Britain such talk was not considered right.

“There’s a fine balance between confidence and arrogance, and sometimes the Americans sailed too close to the arrogant line. We British apologised for being confident. If you showed confidence people would knock you down and say, ‘He’s too cocky.’ We no longer have to apologise for being confident.”

The 39-year-old former sprinter achieved his biggest successes at the Olympics — 200metres silver in Sydney and 4x100m relay gold in Athens — and credits last year’s Games here for creating the new-found spirit.

Although the track and field squad fell two short of the eight-medal target set by their then head coach Charles van Commenee, nights such as Super Saturday and Team GB’s achievement in finishing third in the medal table have had a profound effect, according to Campbell. “What everybody saw last year was how great things are. We can beat the others. We deserve to be at the top.”

We are talking a short Tube ride away from the Olympic Stadium. where Campbell has been commentating on the weekend’s Anniversary Games.

Of the British athletes who took part, he was very impressed by Perri Shakes-Drayton. A year after a hamstring injury stopped her making the Olympic final, the 24-year-old posted a personal best of 53.67sec in the 400m hurdles to finish second to the Czech Zuzana Hejnova, who posted the fastest time in the world this year of 53.07sec.

“Perri is one of the most talented athletes, not just female, we have ever had. She can do any event. Against a quality field in a stadium where she does not have the best of memories, and especially living so close by [in Bow], she showed that she has learned many lessons. What a great run for a personal best.

“There are some amazing 400m women hurdlers. Perri  still has a good chance of a medal in Moscow. What she needs to realise is all the top guys have a little bit of slack after an Olympic year. This is where you’ve got to take advantage and keep focused.”

Campbell wishes James Dasaolu had shown a similar focus last week. A fortnight after becoming the second fastest Briton of all time with a run of 9.91sec, Dasaolu’s night in the spotlight turned sour as he pulled up in the warm-up due to a groin strain.

“With a big crowd in the Olympic Stadium and up against Usain Bolt and seven other top sprinters he should have run,” says Campbell. “It would have been a fantastic test. Not many sports people go out into the arena and do not have injures.”

Dasaolu said he was not prepared to take risks ahead of the Moscow championships and has vigorously denied his mental state is fragile. But Campbell says: “To say he is a bit fragile is an understatement. By not running, he’s put more pressure on himself for the World Championships.”

And this is a championships where, predicts Campbell, Bolt could set new records.  After a lukewarm start to the year, the six-times Olympic gold medallist won the 100m on Friday in a season’s best of 9.85sec.

“Usain trains to peak for major championships, his best times come then. On other circuits he’s not even near 90 per cent, never mind 100 per cent. Friday was a warning to everybody. It showed he is fit, is in shape. Come Moscow, if the track is quick and the conditions are right, he will run some quick times.”

In Moscow, as in London at the weekend, Bolt will not come up against fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell or the American Tyson Gay, both of whom have failed drugs tests. For Campbell, the return of the spectre of drugs taking in athletics is “heart-breaking”.

However, Campbell accepts there may be some merit in the claims by both sprinters that their failed tests were due to taking contaminated substances given by their advisers. “The public need to understand the difference between performance-enhancing drugs and sports nutrient products,” he says.

“I’ve been involved in the nutrient market for seven years. My business partner John Williams, the Wales rugby team and Lions nutritionist, sources products from companies that do not make illegal substances. The biggest problem is some companies who make legal products for professional sports people also make illegal products for the body building market. That’s why what they [Powell and Gay] are talking about could have happened.”

So, is Campbell softening his hardline stance on drugs cheats? After all, this is the runner who, having won gold in the 2006 European 4x100m relay, refused to complete a lap of honour with his team-mates, one of whom was Dwain Chambers. His explanation was that he had lost two medals because of Chambers’s drugs taking.

He explains: “People say I did not do the lap of honour in my last ever race for GB for selfish reasons. I didn’t do it because why should I be tarnished for something I hadn’t done? Why should the man in the street say, ‘He used to run, he won medals, so he must have taken drugs.’”

And, to emphasises his point, he says: “You have to ban people for life.”

When I suggest surely even drugs cheats should have the possibility of redemption, Campbell’s retort is brisk. “How can you seek redemption? There is no redemption for those who have lost medals.”


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