Just before 9.30pm today, the eight fastest men in the world will be gathered in a small room deep in the bowels of the Olympic Stadium, attempting to destroy each other.
The tactics in this game of mental disintegration will vary. Some might sing or hum. Others will pace the room, looking into the eyes, the souls, of their fellow competitors. Usain Bolt will likely be in a world of his own, thinking about the face he will pull for the camera as it pans across the start line.
It is a scenario that few know but Darren Campbell is one of them. The macho world of sprint racing is not known for its sensitivity, but the Englishman attempted to kill by kindness.
His preferred method of dealing with the bullies in the warm-up room was simple — to lie flat on his back and sing love songs to them. Having your competitors think you are insane has its advantages; the likes of Maurice Greene never attempted to intimidate Campbell, and it was no coincidence that the 38-year-old produced his best performances in the finals of major competitions.
Campbell won silver in the 200m at the Sydney Olympics of 2000 and gold four years later in Athens as part of the British 4x100m relay team.
Yet those moments before the final of the Olympic Games are what sprinters live for; why they dedicate years to the mind-numbing training regime that can cost them friends, relationships, and sanity.
“You train so hard for so many years, working six days a week, and it comes down to those 10 seconds,” explains Campbell.
“Sometimes the enormity of the task can hit people at the last minute. Then it just comes down to the fine details and trusting all the work you have put in.”
The one sprinter that really tried the mind-games was Maurice Greene, who won gold in Sydney in 2000. “When we were in the warm-up room he would be stomping around, growling, trying to intimidate you,” says Campbell.
“I would be lying on my back, my feet on the chair and signing love songs. They thought I was crazy but I just wouldn’t let him near me. He would walk around and growl and growl until people looked up at him. When they did that I knew it was one more person he had rattled, and one less person to worry about.”
As Campbell says, for an Olympic athlete it is one shot, death or glory.
“That is the part that messes with you mentally and asks you hard questions of yourself. We are talking about someone sacrificing four years of their life for an event, which in my case was just 10 or 20 seconds.”
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