Athletics: Rutherford lifts himself with hopes of history

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It has not exactly been the best of times for Greg Rutherford. In the week leading up to the Olympic trials in Birmingham, the European long jump silver medallist discovered that his grandfather was suffering from terminal cancer. Sadly, in the early hours of last Wednesday, James Pearce passed away.

"It was only yesterday that I made the decision to come here," Rutherford said, after going ahead with his planned pre-Olympic test of competitive form in the Aviva London Grand Prix. "I've been struggling for sleep and that sort of stuff. I thought I'd come here and aim to win, do it for him." As he had done in Birmingham, the prodigiously talented young man from Milton Keynes did his beloved grandfather proud, recording another 8m-plus victory, this time with a distance of 8.16m.

In doing so, he also fittingly honoured another late family member who made a notable mark in this particular corner of south London. Back in 1910, Rutherford's great-grandfather headed the 82nd-minute goal that earned Newcastle United a 1-1 draw against Barnsley in the FA Cup final. That was at the old Crystal Palace football ground, with 77,747 souls in attendance.

There were 14,000 spectators here yesterday as the great-grandson of Jock Rutherford – the spring-heeled Edwardian football star known as "the Newcastle flyer" – soared to an emotional victory in the track and field arena that stands on the same site.

Jock played on the wing for the Magpies in five FA Cup finals at the old Crystal Palace and failed to win one of them. He did lift the tin pot with Newcastle in 1910, but via a replay at Goodison Park. His great grandson, as naturally gifted as his celebrated ancestor, who won three championship titles with Newcastle and played in the First Division for Arsenal at the age of 41, has already won some silverware at the sharp end of his chosen sport. Two years ago he finished runner-up at the European Championships in Gothenburg.

The 21-year-old Greg's progress since then has been somewhat hamstrung by injury but he returned to form with a vengeance in those Olympic trials in Birmingham, landing an 8.20m jump, just 6cm shy of his personal best and 9cm short of Chris Tomlinson's British record, to secure a shot at Olympic gold in Beijing three weeks from now.

It is to be hoped Tomlinson will have the same opportunity too. The towering Teesside native withdrew hurt from the competition yesterday after registering a first-round effort of 7.74m, ultimately good enough for only sixth place. Thankfully, the early diagnosis of his injury was no more serious than a cramp in his right calf.

As for Rutherford, he might well have gone the same way as his great grandfather. As a 14-year-old blessed with lightning pace he attracted interest from Aston Villa. Jock was a teenage prodigy who made his debut in the First Division aged 17, scoring for Newcastle in a 4-1 win against Bolton Wanderers at St James' Park. He was only 19 when he won the first of 11 caps on the right wing for England.

Greg was 19 when he won his European long jump silver in Gothenburg. His talent is such that his former coach, Tom McNab, once suggested he had the ability to jump 9m. That, as it happens, is 10cm farther than the quantum leap taken by Bob Beamon at the Mexico Olympics in 1968. It is also 5cms beyond Mike Powell's world record.