Andrew Campbell wasn’t going to get washed out by the shadow of two sculling giants at the 50th running of the Head of the Charles Regatta.
There was Kjetil Borch, the 6-foot-4-inch, 185-pound Norwegian, who won the championship singles the last two years and was trying to become the first to accomplish a three-peat since Greg Walker did so from 1991-93.
There was Mahe Drysdale, the hulking 6-6, 220-pound New Zealand sculler and current Olympic gold medalist.
Yet neither proved a match for Campbell, as the 22-year-old Harvard graduate won the championship singles with a time of 17:11.64 Saturday.
The 5-10, 155-pound Campbell set a course record, barely eclipsing Borch’s 2013 time of 17:12.3.
It was a rare victory for a lightweight sculler, and it was hardly close Saturday, as Borch finished a distant second at 17:21.85. Drysdale clocked in fourth in 17:26.52.
Campbell, who knew the course inside and out after rowing out of Harvard’s Newell Boathouse for three years, was able to easily navigate the hairpin turn before passing the Cambridge Boat Club and the Eliot Bridge in the final stretch.
“I get a ton of practice on the Charles because I row it every day. I’ve been on this river for four years and know the turns like the back of my hand,” Campbell said.
Once Campbell got to the Weeks Footbridge, which is approximately the halfway mark, he knew the race was in his command.
“I knew I had to get to the Weeks with something left in the tank,” Campbell said. “If I was too dead at that point, I wouldn’t have been able to steer well. So I paced conservatively enough that I was feeling good and I continued stepping up the pace from here on out.
Linda Muri, who coached Campbell when he was a freshman on the lightweight team at Harvard, was thrilled to see him win.
For Muri, there was no doubting the grit and determination of Campbell, even against the likes of Borch and Drysdale.
At the 2014 World Championship in Amsterdam this summer, Campbell was a favorite after wining gold at the World Under 23 Championship.
But Campbell flipped his shell in the quarterfinal, only to climb back in to finish the race.
Most would have quit when it became apparent they wouldn’t be in the A final, but Campbell’s determination earned him a spot in the C final, which he won in 6:46.95.
“Very few people would have done that,” Muri said. “He got back in the boat and you have to finish the race.”
It was no surprise to Muri that Campbell prevailed Saturday.
“It’s a strong field. Those guys are huge,” Muri said. “They’re champions and they’re fast and for Andrew to do that, it’s a testament to his hard work and dedication.
Campbell’s ascension through the ranks has been a winding journey — one that started when he was in the eighth grade.
His success has been fueled by his fearlessness on the water, as the New Canaan, Conn., native hardly shies away from stronger competition.
“I have a history of racing guys bigger than me,” Campbell said. “I did it as a junior and early on in my career, decided I wouldn’t let things like that faze me. I am just as good, if not a better technical sculler than anyone out there. I can leverage what power I have very effectively and that’s what counts.
“I’m glad I stuck with rowing. It’s taken me to some cool places.”
For Campbell, the hope is that next place is Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics.