Salisbury University alumnus and Olympic hurdler Luke Campbell returned to SU Monday to reflect on his collegiate and professional accolades after competing for Team Germany during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Campbell, an 11-time national champion and 16-time All-American while competing for SU’s men’s indoor and outdoor track and field teams, hit his stride in hurdle events while donning the maroon and gold to become the most-awarded student-athlete in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III history, per an SU press release.
SU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and Student-Athlete Mentors held a question-and-answer forum for Campbell to engage with campus community members in the Holloway Hall. The event was moderated by Jim Jones, head coach of SU’s men’s and women’s cross country and track and field teams.
Jones served as both a coach and mentor for Campbell during his championship runs, including what Jones considers to be the “greatest upset ever in track and field history,” when Campbell narrowly won his first outdoor national title as a freshman in high hurdles against the nation’s top competition.
As with any freshman student-athlete, Campbell admitted “it was difficult [to find a balance]” between his studies and his love of the sport but leaned on his coaches and teammates for structure before finding success on the track.
Campbell's experience during the outdoor high hurdles national championship run that year, however, quickly “set the tone” for the remainder of his collegiate career and goals moving forward.
Campbell followed up his freshman campaign with the 11th-fastest 60-meter hurdles time in the world during his second indoor track and field national championship appearance in 2014.
In the outdoor national championship that spring, Campbell reached a peak never before touched by an NCAA Division III student-athlete: the threepeat.
After conquering the indoor 60-meter hurdle event, Campbell also won both the outdoor high hurdles and 400-meter hurdles for the first-ever sweep of all three events in a single calendar year.
Campbell proceeded to collect two more threepeats during his junior and senior seasons, as well as anchor the nation’s top NCAA Division III 400-meter relay team his junior year.
The hurdler’s tear through NCAA Division III competition finally came to an end in 2016 after Campbell graduated from SU with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.
Campbell, who holds dual citizenship in the United States and Germany, moved back to the European nation post-graduation after discovering more lucrative opportunities to pursue a professional career on the track and develop a deeper connection with his original home.
“It was a chance to go back to where I was born to rekindle the flame with my family and see this other side of my life that I missed out on for the past 20 years [while in the U.S.],” Campbell said.
Campbell later flew onto the world stage in 2021, qualifying for Team Germany in the 400-meter hurdles of the Summer Games.
“It was something that you experience very rarely,” Campbell said. “[I got] these goosebumps just walking into the stadium and being engulfed … even without the audience there.”
SU President Charles Wight praised Campbell's accomplishments and advancing his professional career and representing the university abroad.
“We are very proud at Salisbury University when our alumni go out and do great things, but when they do great things on the biggest stage in the world – the Olympic Games – it’s very special,” Wight said. “We are as proud of you today as we ever have been when you wore Salisbury on the front of your jersey.”
After reaching his goal of advancing to the event’s semifinals, Campbell finished eleventh overall and with a personal-best time courtesy of a “combination of relaxation and adrenaline.”
Campbell was also added to the country’s 400-meter relay team while in Tokyo during live competition, to which Campbell joked that “[he’s] always down to run extra events at the Olympics.”
One of the most “surreal” aspects of the trip for Campbell was the Olympic Village, which was lined with massive cafeterias full of the world’s cuisine and fellow star athletes from across the globe, including Campbell’s favorite, Dallas Mavericks and Team Slovenia point guard Luka Dončić.
To SU’s latest champions – including its baseball and women’s lacrosse teams – Campbell emphasized the importance of accountability and discipline in the hunt for future titles.
“I think it’s all really about holding yourself accountable because in the end you’re not able to change who you’re up against and what their attitudes are toward you … it’s more so focusing on yourself and being prepared for when that day comes when you’re going against the next team or the next [competitor],” Campbell said.
Campbell said preparation for his next goal has already begun, as he aims to compete in the 2024 Games in Paris because “there’s always something to look forward to and always a chance to set your goals higher.”
By JAKOB TODD
Featured image courtesy of Cole Zeder.