ROWING: Seven up for Campbell with Olympics on the horizon

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ALAN CAMPBELL laid down a marker for next year’s Olympic Games by winning his seventh successive single scull senior trials title at the weekend.

The event was held on the Dorney Lake course, where he hopes to go head-to-head with the likes of the Czech Republic’s Ondřej Synek, the reigning world champion, and New Zealand’s Mahe Drysdale next summer.

The Coleraine man dominated the single scull final, beating Matt Wells by a comfortable margin to clock up his seventh success in a row since Wells won the title himself in 2004.

He did not blast off the start but was comfortable enough to ease into a two-thirds length lead by 750m gone. At halfway he turned on the pace a little to ease out to just over a length. That was the moment at which experts predicted that Olympic double scull medallist Wells might go with him.

But Campbell is not amongst the top four racers in the world for nothing. He countered the challenge and went onto win by just over a second in 7:01.05.

It’s the perfect start for Campbell’s Olympic countdown.

“I am really looking forward to London 2012 because not many athletes have had the chance to represent their country at home,” said Campbell.

“You rarely get the chance to compete in front of the people who mean the most to you and this weekend was all about visualising that race next year.

“I have dreamt about it several times and fortunately I’ve won every one.

“This weekend was also a great opportunity to practice in the conditions we will be facing in 2012.

“But of course we’ve got a really strong team and I have to watch my back the whole time because the guys are out to get me and want to prove themselves.”

Campbell was viewed as a potential medallist in Beijing until he was forced to undergo untimely knee surgery for an infection, which left him on crutches just weeks before he was due to compete. He still competed but settled for fifth, a more than creditable result in the circumstances.

Then, last season, the injury curse struck again, this time landing Campbell in hospital for four days after a cycling accident, which hampered his preparations for a year that still saw him claim bronze at the World Championships and two World Cup silvers.

However, the sculler now believes he is in tip-top shape and ready to take on the world in this year’s World Championships in Bled.

“When I compare myself with 2008 I am a much stronger athlete and I have got better results on a bigger stage to prove that,” added Campbell.

“I was absolutely devastated when I got the news about surgery before Beijing but my desire to be there and to race got me to the startline and I have used that in my training since.

“After winning a silver and a bronze at world level, it would be nice to complete the set and get the gold in Bled so I can go into the Olympics as the favourite.

“I expect Ondřej to be the guy to beat because he has always been consistent at the World Championships but I believe in myself and think I have got what it takes.”

Campbell believes British rowing will head into the London Olympics in the middle of a golden era.

The retirement of Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent has knocked the sport down the news agenda but recent results have hinted at the potential for something special next summer.

Last year’s World Championships in New Zealand saw the British team pick up nine medals, four of them gold, and Campbell, the bronze medallist on Lake Karapiro, said: “British rowing has really come into its own.

“We had a lot of really top individuals, like Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent, and it wasn’t the case that we relied on them but they were real standout athletes.

“People wondered what would happen when they finished. But what has happened is they’ve inspired a whole new generation of rowers and it’s the strongest team we’ve ever had.

“It was the best performance at a World Championships and that’s a huge amount of momentum to carry with us going into the Olympics.

“I know even those who won are treating it as if they came second in the gym. They’re hungry to maintain that gold standard.

“There’s a good amount of confidence; we should be confident, but people are doing it in the right way.”