CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Discus throwers David Blair and Jeremy Campbell are training partners away from competition, and two of the world’s best Paralympic athletes on the field.
They’re also going to be teammates on the U.S. squad preparing for the upcoming 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in early September.
Blair and Campbell finished 1-2 in the F44 men’s discus competition Saturday at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials, held at Johnson C. Smith University.
Blair, ranked No. 1 in the world by the International Paralympic Committee, won the title with three tosses of better than 61 meters, including a meet-best 61.82-meter (202-feet, 10-inch) throw.
Campbell, the world’s No. 2 and a two-time Paralympic gold medalist in the event, had an off day under hot and muggy conditions, yet still managed a best throw of 59.99 meters (196-10).
“I can’t think of a better teammate to have,” Campbell said. “He’s a great thrower, obviously; we saw that today. He’s challenged me … (because) you can definitely get complacent. I always say that it’s a lot easier to become No. 1 than to stay No. 1.
“We’ve got a good rivalry going — it fuels me, and I know it fuels him. We just have a lot of respect for each other.”
Saturday’s finish — especially Campbell’s throws — is somewhat of an aberration, considering the two throwers’ past history.
Blair currently holds the official world record of 63.61 meters (208-8), having broken Campbell’s record by 15 centimeters at a meet in Arizona on May 14. But Campbell unofficially surpassed that mark last week, throwing 63.69 meters (208-11) during a session at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.
“In the past, Jeremy’s voiced to me that he could win even with an off day,” Blair said. “Now he can’t do it. If I have an off day, I’m not going to win, and if he has an off day, he’s not going to win.”
There was a time where the 28-year-old Campbell — whose right leg was amputated at age 1 after he was born with a rare birth deficiency, fibular hemimelia — was the class of the field, and in more than one sport.
At his first Paralympic Games, in 2008 in Beijing, Campbell took home the gold medal in both the discus and pentathlon — a feat he first accomplished at the U.S. Paralympic national championships.
Switching his focus to just the discus after that, Campbell repeated his gold-medal performance at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and won the world championship in the event in 2013 and 2015.
But the 40-year-old Blair, who was born with clubfoot, has come along fast since learning he was Paralympics-eligible just over a year ago.
Blair was a former Utah state high school champion in the discus and a conference champion in both the hammer and weight throw while attending Weber State — all coming against able-bodied athletes.
After 16 years away from the sport, Blair returned to competition in Paralympic events. Six months later, he finished second to Campbell at the world championships, and he moved atop the IPC rankings earlier this year.
The rivalry was on. Kind of.
“There’s no real animosity between us,” Blair said. “Neither of us would like to lose to the other one, but if we do, we don’t want anyone else to beat us. We want to be 1-2 everywhere we go.”
That’s especially true for Blair and Campbell’s next event — the Rio Games, just two months away. These will be the first Paralympic Games for Blair, who said that’s where having a teammate like Campbell will come in handy.
“Being able to train with an athlete that we’re at the same level with each other, it’s an advantage,” Blair said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m happy and honored to be there, and I love that I’m going to be there with Jeremy. It’s going to be cool.”
But Campbell doesn’t expect Blair to have any problems.
“He simply doesn’t need it,” Campbell said. “He was a great collegiate thrower, and a great competitor. That stuff kinda comes naturally to athletes — you either have it or you don’t. He obviously possesses that.
“It’s going to be exciting, with me and David leading the world … but handling the competition, he’s not going to have any trouble with that.”