Greg Rutherford rolls with the punches to reach World Championships in Moscow
Olympic champion opts for boxing training to help win fitness battle to compete in long jump
Wednesday 07 August 2013
MK Victors is an unobtrusive boxing club in Bletchley, just outside Milton Keynes, set up by the family members of a prominent local boxing figure after his death eight years ago.
It is admittedly an unlikely place to find an Olympic long jump champion but it is where, until recently, Greg Rutherford has been training in an effort to get fit for the World Championships in Moscow.
The change of regime to boxing for the first time is an apt one as he gets ready to compete at the Luzhniki Stadium, scene of Allan Wells' 100 metres triumph in the 1980 Olympics. The Scottish sprinter used boxing as part of his pre-Olympic preparation and Rutherford admitted Wells, as well as one of his own neighbours, played a part in his decision to try the training method.
"Funnily enough, one of my neighbours two doors up, an old boy, has spoken about it for years," he said. "I thought it might be a good way to tap into key arm and shoulder movements. I remember Allan Wells saying he did a lot of speed-boxing sessions. I thought it could be something to try."
Rutherford is yet to spar – nor will he – but has relished the change in training, as he tries to get into the sort of shape that led to him being crowned Olympic champion last year, after recovering from a hamstring tear. "It's very different to what I do," he said. "That first session I had opened my eyes instantly to 'flipping heck, this is hard work'. You can stick things on my legs and I can deal with it quite happily. But you get me moving for three minutes to stimulate a round in boxing and it's hard work for your arms. You find weaknesses and then you can work on them.
"The boxing side of things is more for movement skills and tapping into the understanding of how my upper body moves more. On the jump side of things, my arms are all over the place. If I can find something that helps with that, then I think it could be golden."
While the boxing may well have given Rutherford marginal gains in terms of competing, the bigger issue is his pesky hamstring. His rate of recovery has been rapid, in fact, remarkable and, having gone from a five per cent chance of making the British team at one stage, he was cleared last week by UK Athletics' medical team to take his place on the plane.
Whether he can land a knockout blow in the long jump in the Russian capital as he did in London a year ago is another matter. But Rutherford is adamant he would not have taken his place in the squad if not fully fit to compete.
"I said I wouldn't put myself in that position unless I was ready to jump and to jump far," he said. "By the time I am there [in Moscow] I fully expect to be ready and ready to go, as I would for any competition.
"I think most thought that was me done for the year. But I have healed to a level which I think has surprised some people, especially given the extent of the injury initially. For whatever reason, my body has healed at an exceptional rate. As it stands, there doesn't seem to be any problems."
Rutherford described 2013 so far as a "bit year" but he is still going to the World Championships "with not the ideal preparation but relatively confident".
Life after that career high in London has been far from perfect. His sponsors have evaporated and he has been forced to split with coach Dan Pfaff, unable to meet the costs of travelling out to Phoenix, Arizona, where Pfaff relocated after London 2012. Plus there has been the hamstring injury.
Going into Moscow he is coachless, although he is partially still leaning on Pfaff, with the occasional email exchange. But despite the setbacks – both physical and financial – he insisted he has never had any plans to walk away from the sport.
"There's always an issue of thinking, 'Well, I could do an after-dinner speech every night and probably earn more than I could in track and field'," he said. "But that's a dangerous scenario to get yourself into. Ultimately, I love the sport, I love doing what I do. There are not many people around the world who can say, 'Well, I get paid to jump into a sandpit'.
"If the next few years don't go too well then, when you ask the same question, I might be hanging up my spikes but I very much doubt that will be the scenario."
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