Chula Vista literally translates as “beautiful view” but, as Greg Rutherford stood on the runway in the second-largest city in San Diego County at the end of last week, the view was anything but that.
“During the competition, I did slightly question myself whether I could do it after two fouls and a run through,” the Olympic long jump champion admitted.
As he returned to the UK on Monday, the view at the top of the world’s standings is both beautiful and a breath of fresh air, Rutherford having smashed his own British record by 16 centimetres in California last Thursday with a leap of 8.51 metres.
It comfortably marks him out as world No 1 in 2014; in fact, only 18 men have ever jumped further. But prior to that gargantuan leap and even though he is the reigning Olympic champion, the doubts have persisted in a tough 21 months since London 2012, which have included a ruptured hamstring at the Diamond League meeting in Paris last July.
“Around Moscow time [the World Championships for which he was selected despite the injury] and after Paris, I did worry that my body would be able to do it any more. A ruptured hamstring can damage people’s careers. But I’ve finally got a jump that I know is a bit more special and I have put to bed the demons of the injury. It’s a great feeling.”
A torrid 2013 led pundits to question whether Rutherford was merely a flash in the pan, after which he admitted he had even pondered a switch to winter sports. However, he intimated his best long jump form was returning when he leapt eight metres indoors in Birmingham in February, before finally silencing the critics in Chula Vista.
Rutherford was clearly wary of falling into that flash-in-a-pan trap. Speaking in the bowels of the Olympic Stadium after that victory, he admitted he did not want to be a one-off. Last week’s effort has enabled him to be more ambitious for the rest of the season.
“I want to get over 28 feet, which is 8.54m, which gets me into a relatively elite club,” he said. “I’d love to end my career as an all-time top 10. If I could do that, it would be a massive feat. In my silly youth, I said I could break the world record. I didn’t really understand what it takes because doing 8.51m has absolutely destroyed my body.”
Rutherford puts his improved distance down to speed. He has been working with London-based coach Jonas Tawiah-Dodoo, a protégé of Rutherford’s former coach Dan Pfaff, which has entailed the self-styled “Ginger Wizard”, at 27, being the elder statesman in his group of sprinters including David Bolarinwa and Deji Tobais.
“It’s been a massive change,” said Rutherford, who is no sprint slouch, with a personal best of 10.26sec for the 100m. “It seems the training I have been doing has definitely been working. It’s been a second lease of life in a way.”
With his current approach, he is, he says, “emulating a lot of what I did in 2012”, with the hope he can achieve similar results. Repeating last week’s jump would enable him to dream of adding European and Commonwealth champion to his Olympic title.