To her fans, she is simply “VCB”. But Veronica Campbell-Brown’s name has been synonymous with Olympic excellence since she became the first woman to win three track medals in three Games. The Jamaican sprinter, who specialises in the 100m and 200m, added silver in the 4x100m relay and bronze in the 100m to her haul of seven titles – which also includes two golds and a bronze in Athens in 2004, one gold in Beijing in 2008, and two silvers in Sydney in 2000.
The 29-year-old found sport was her route out of a poverty-stricken upbringing in Trelawny – the Jamaican parish that has produced several world champion runners, including Usain Bolt – and, in the process, she became one of the greatest Olympians her country has ever produced.
Born into a family of nine brothers and sisters, she was spotted running barefoot at a school sports day and, like many of her fellow countrymen and women, travelled to America to develop her talent, first through a scholarship at Barton County Community College in Kansas – where her record times in the 100m and 200m still stand – and latterly at the University of Arkansas. The young sprinter burst onto the track and field scene in 1999, winning gold in the 100m and 400m relay at the inaugural IAAF World Youth Championships.
Aged 18, she ran the second leg in the relay at the Sydney Games the following year, with veteran Jamaican runners Tanya Lawrence, Beverly McDonald, Merlene Frazer and Olympic legend Merlene Ottey, who inspired her to take up athletics. But Campbell-Brown in turn proved an inspiration to countless young women in her homeland, becoming, at the 2004 Games, the first woman from Jamaica to win gold in a sprint race at the Olympics. With another gold in the relay and bronze in the 200m, she immediately became the most successful Caribbean athlete at a single Games.
At the 2007 World Championships, she was crowned 100m champion and, in the process, became the first athlete to sweep the board at the International Association of Athlete Federation (IAAF) games. And, four years later in Beijing, she became only the second woman in Olympic Games history to successfully defend her 200m title.
Indoor gold medals followed, and in 2010 she took the 60m title – which she would retain two years later in Delhi. And, back outdoors, she finished the season with world best times in both the 100m and 200m. In 2011, she finally secured individual gold in the 200m at the World Championships in Daegu, along with silver medals in the 100m and 4x100m relays.
In London, the stage was set for another showdown between Campbell-Brown and Allyson Felix of the USA, with whom she shares one of the greatest rivalries in the history of athletics. Between them they have won every single Olympic and world 200m title since 2004 – but the American finally clinched a long-awaited gold in the 200m, leaving VCB to settle for fourth place. Displaying the humility that has made her not just a legendary athlete but also a great ambassador for sport, Campbell-Brown said immediately after the race: “I’m happy for her. I knew how bad she wanted it.”
Away from the track, she is a UNESCO Sport Ambassador and heads the VCB Foundation, which offers mentorship and financial assistance to young women in Jamaica. She says: “I believe in giving back. If I can touch just one life, I will help someone to get a high school education, mentor them and point them in the right direction.”