Greg Rutherford, the forgotten man of Olympics ready to leap into public eye

Long jumper dismisses funding and injury woes before World Championships

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The Independent Online

Greg Rutherford recently pondered the idea of sitting down to dinner with his fellow golden stars of Super Saturday once their careers are over to relive those heady moments.

Were they to meet up today, exactly 12 months on from that amazing day, the 26-year-old admits that part of him would remain starstruck. "Despite the fact I've known them for a long time, they're really big names," he explains.

In many ways, Rutherford is not. He is, like Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis-Hill, an Olympic champion, but does not have the back-up of having shone at other major championships. He has been in the top 10 since he started senior competitions in 2005, but his previous medal bests have been two silvers: in the 2006 European Championships and the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

As a result, he has in some ways become the forgotten one of that trio from a year ago, certainly with regard to sponsors. While his Super Saturday stalwarts have signed lucrative contracts, Rutherford has even fewer sponsors than at London 2012. In fact, his current sponsor count reads zero.

"The major problem is the economic climate doesn't help with the situation," he admits. "It shows how well it went as there were 29 [British] gold medallists and only a certain amount of things to go around. I've not received any of the financial aid that others have. I'm working harder now than I ever was. As yet, it hasn't worked."

At least for the time being, concerns over financial backing are not part of his mindset as he turns his attention to competing at the World Championships.

Two weeks ago a hamstring tear meant he was deemed to have a five per cent chance of taking the vacant long-jump spot in the British team. By the weekend, that had risen to 50 per cent and last week he was finally declared fit to travel.

The rate of recovery would have been nothing short of miraculous for most athletes but Rutherford is used to being injured – with hamstring tears in particular – and, it would seem that as a result, his body is freakishly fast in repairing. In some ways, he is resigned to the injuries, in others buoyed by them and the fact he knows he can compete even with little preparation time.

"The 2009 season was identical – I tore my hamstring just before Berlin and then jumped 8.30 metres," he recalls. "Those sorts of scenarios give me confidence. This year hasn't gone to plan anywhere near as it did last year. Knowing that last year went well, I will draw on those experiences. Even with a pretty big injury at not a great time, I've recovered really well. I'm feeling fit and strong again. I'm really confident I stand a great chance."

The selection process has been harsh on Chris Tomlinson, his rival long jumper who was fully fit at the time the team was initially selected. But UK Athletics performance director, Neil Black, used his discretionary powers to leave the long jump berth vacant and give Rutherford enough time to prove his fitness. Tomlinson, without the "A" standard, was omitted as a result.

As such, the onus is on Britain's one representative in the long jump pit in Moscow to produce the goods. For his part, there is no lack of confidence, having finished in the top three of all his competitions to date this season bar the Diamond League in Paris where he picked up his injury. He also wants to prove London 2012 was not just a one-off.

"I want multiple major medals and to jump big," he adds. "At 26, I like to think there's plenty of years to win major championships. I want to add another medal to my tally."

Five men have jumped further than his Olympic effort of 8.31 metres this year. Mexico's Luis Rivera has set the benchmark with 8.46 but Russian Aleksander Menkov has been the most consistent jumper.

Rutherford says: "There's a target on my back and they like to beat me, but a bit of pressure has shifted on to Menkov as he's jumping well all year and it's a major championships in his country."

To prepare, Rutherford has undertaken boxing and hill runs with his dogs. Much of it has been a lonely path having recently parted with his coach, Dan Pfaff, following his return to the United States and Rutherford's inability to meet the costs of relocating there. The pair still liaise by email but Rutherford admits: "Dan was great in passing on his knowledge so I keep a level of understanding. I've got to get it done myself."

To win gold in Moscow, Rutherford thinks 8.50 will possibly be needed, 15 centimetres further than he has jumped before. But he thought the same in London and came away as Olympic champion with 8.31. Now back to fitness, he is confident of a repeat.