Darren Campbell on how sprinting saved him from gang life

Former Olympic sprinter Darren Campell spoke to BBC Sport about his life before athletics and how his life could have been different:

Campbell’s mother was a constant source of strength and inspiration to her son. She was a strict parent – Campbell describes her as “the most feared on the estate” – but the fact she often worked two or three jobs meant he also spent plenty of time with his extended group of friends, for whom trouble was never far away.

“Initially it was a brotherhood, a group,” he says. “Unfortunately, as time went on it became more of a gang. An ‘us against the world’ kind of thing, because that is how you found yourself.

“I wouldn’t say we were bad kids because we weren’t. But as we got older it was easy to get dragged into the different things on the estate. You became a product of your environment. The things you see are gangs, gun crime, knife crime, drugs.

“There was lots of fighting. That means you’ve got to learn to protect yourself and your friends as well. It was down to that – protecting each other – that we became a gang. Then things escalated from there.”

Then athletics kept him away from a life of violence and danger:

“T was part of the gang that was based in Moss Side,” Campbell says.

“He didn’t live on the estate where I grew up. He was up to different stuff and got himself into a situation where there’d been an altercation with another group and they basically got somebody to assassinate him. That’s the reality of it. To this day we still don’t know who killed him.

“It was difficult. It showed me how fragile life could be and how quickly somebody could be taken away. It led me to a situation where I had a choice to make – whether to stay in Manchester or not – because my mum had heard I was on a hitlist.

“When she asked me to leave Manchester, I just knew I had to go.”

And the rest is history as he went to win two Olympic medals in 2000 (silver in the 200m) and 2004 (gold in the 4x100m relay), three medals in the World Championships, four in the European Championships, and three in the Commonwealth Games.

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