Big ideas, big voice for lightweight Campbell
On the campus of Harvard University, USA, Andrew Campbell Jr. blends in with his peers, but put him in a boat and he certainly stands out from the crowd. At the World Rowing Under 23 Championships in Linz-Ottensheim, Austria he has set himself up as one of the main contenders to take gold in the lightweight men’s single sculls.
Success in this boat class is something Campbell has become somewhat acquainted with. He has collected World Championship
bronze at junior, under-23 and senior level all by the tender age of 21.
Seeing a United States rower in a single at an international regatta is quite a rare sight, especially when you consider that he is a student at Harvard University, a college renowned for its big boat crews. But get to know him better and you see that Campbell is a single sculler to the core.
From an early age Campbell loved sailing, but when he moved from the Lake Michigan town of Lake Forest, Illinois to the sleepy town of New Canaan, Connecticut he needed to transfer his passion for being on the water to another sport. A nearby rowing club caught the eye of the then 13-year-old and he signed up, thinking he had found a similar sport to sailing. “Later I found out that rowing is nothing like sailing,” Campbell says “but I really loved the competitive drive and work ethic it demanded.”
Developing a passion
Campbell’s first experience in rowing came in a sculling boat, the octuplet (eight scullers), which is relatively unusual in the United States, but he was happy to learn his trade there for two years. “Eventually I was put in the single and I loved it right away,” he recalls. Campbell immediately had a special affinity with the single scull as well as an appreciation for it that often takes years to develop. “What really grabbed me was small boat competition and to be able to make a change and feel it instantly on the water,” he says.
As Campbell’s high school years came to an end and university was on the horizon, Campbell knew rowing would play a big part in the direction his future education took. Having been scouted by a number of United States universities he decided that his future was at Harvard and rowing under coach Charlie Butt with the Harvard lightweight squad. “I knew this would help me realise both my goals of being a small boat sculler going forward as well as rowing for a good college eight.” Having this diversity and flexibility in his programme has allowed him to step onto the senior international stage and pursue his ambitions.
Driven to succeed
“I’ve always been very competitive with myself,” Campbell admits.The day-to-day competition, trying to improve, trying to get a little bit faster; this is what has motivated him on a daily basis. “I like training more than I like racing because it’s those little victories every day that motivate me to try to improve.”
Campbell is a self-confessed perfectionist when it comes to technique. He describes it as the ‘mental puzzle’ that keeps him going. “I am absolutely enveloped in thinking about technique, efficiency and rhythm when I row and I think that is what makes the sport so interesting for me: the fact that I can push how I row further every day.”
Striking a balance
Campbell is as focused a scholar as he is an oarsman. The coaches of the lightweight programme at Harvard make sure that Campbell has enough time to study and that training is schedule around his study in economics. However, the support of his coaches would not be effective if it wasn’t for Campbell’s own focus. “It really just takes some self-discipline to make sure that my study is very efficient so that I have time to be able to row,” he says.
Facing the world
The 2013 season is Campbell’s fifth season representing the United States. He compares lining up on the start in the single scull to a boxing match. “You’re alone in a ring with these other guys and it’s all about what you can put down on the table. Nothing else makes a difference.”
This under-23 athlete is far from intimidated by racing at the senior level and his 2012 World Championship bronze medal is testament to that. “The level of competition is so exciting to be a part of,” says Campbell. But success does not come easily. In 2012 Campbell teamed up with William Daly to attempt to earn their way to the London 2012 Olympic Games through the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne (SUI).
Campbell was under no illusion that the task was immense, with only two places in the lightweight men’s double (the only Olympic lightweight sculling boat for men) up for grabs. Campbell and Daly got so close but yet so far from getting the ‘golden ticket.’ “It was such a hard race and such a hard fought campaign that I feel like that was really the hardest thing I have ever done,” Campbell recalls.
Looking for inspiration
Although some things change, rowing is a timeless sport. The stroke will always follow the same cyclical pattern and the drive and motivation needed to succeed will always be there. This makes having role models all the more poignant for aspiring champions. For Campbell, double Olympian Steve Tucker is this person. Like Campbell, Tucker was also a lightweight sculler, representing the United States at the Athens and Sydney Games. Campbell says that “for every United States male lightweight sculler he has been the idol; the one who did it all right.”
Today’s under-23 lightweight men’s single sculls final will hopefully not be the end of Campbell’s 2013 season. From here he will return to the United States for final trials with the goal of being selected to race at the World Rowing Championships in Chungju, Korea, next month. Should he succeed in his selection, what can he achieve there? “I don’t like to put any limits on myself,” he says. “I am going to strive to finish as high as I can. I have improved every year and I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t this year.”
Looking forward to ultimate event, the Olympic Games, Campbell can see himself there in 2016. “There’s a lot of promising talent in the United States and I think that we can produce a strong lightweight double.”
Campbell faces the world in the A-final of the lightweight men’s single scull today at 10:31 CET.