The British athletics team went into the World Championship arena eight days ago with Charles van Commenee, the head coach, telling his 60-strong squad of runners, jumpers and throwers that he wanted to hear "no excuses." "I've told them I don't expect them to use the words injury, pain or niggle," the straight-talking Dutch- man said.
For Greg Rutherford, there would be precious little else to talk about other than the I, the P or the N word when it comes to the subject of the last year. Twelve months ago, the long jumper from Milton Keynes was lying on his back in a Beijing hospital, attached to a drip. He had been taken there after finishing 10th in the Olympic final and he spent three days having treatment for the combined effects of a kidney infection, bronchitis and tonsillitis.
This year he has had to contend with a recurring tonsil problem and a persistent hamstring injury. Not that the British medal hope went through his litany of woe after finishing short of the rostrum in the World Championship final last night. There was plenty of talk, though, about plasticine, the take off board and the mid-competition drama that left Rutherford protesting with the track-side officials and examining footage of his disputed third-round jump with the referee.
Rutherford went into the final as a genuine contender, having jumped 8.30 metres in the qualifying round on Thursday, a 1cm improvement on the British record held by his training-partner and fellow qualifier Chris Tomlinson. Only Dwight Phillips jumped further, the 2004 Olympic champion from the United States venturing out to 8.44m. Sadly, though, Rutherford could not reproduce that form when the medals were on the line last night.
With the gold to be presented by Marlene Dortch, granddaughter of Jesse Owens, who won the long jump and three other golds in the same arena in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, it was Phillips – like the rest of the US team sporting the initials "JO" on his vest – who rose to the occasion. The 31-year-old American led the competition from start to finish, jumping 8.40m in the opening round and then improving to 8.54m, to lead by 7cm from Godfrey Mokoena of South Africa at the halfway stage.
As for Rutherford, it was to be another tale of woe. The 22-year-old jumped 7.83m in the first round and 7.96m in the second and was then left sweating after his third-round effort was flagged up as a foul. Replays showed that he had been at the very brink of the take-off board but appeared to indicate that his toe had not made an impression on the plasticine, the determining factor of a foul jump.
It mattered because the Briton was in seventh place and only eight of the 12 finalists were to make the cut for the last three rounds. With Irving Saladino, the world and Olympic champion from Panama, still to take his third effort and to register a valid mark, Rutherford's place in the competition was on the line when his protest was rejected by the trackside officials.
Fortunately for Rutherford, Saladino planted his take-off foot beyond the board for a third time and was out. The Briton was through and proceeded to improve to 8.17m in the final round. It was not enough to get him on the podium. He finished in fifth place; Tomlinson was eight with a best of 8.06m. The gold went to Phillips, with 8.54m, the silver to Mokoena, with 8.47m and the bronze to Mitchell Watt of Australia, with 8.37m.
"I looked at the plasticine and I couldn't see the mark," Rutherford said of the mid-competition drama, "so I was taken off to see the video evidence and still, with two officials and me looking, we couldn't decide. One guy agreed with me, one guy disagreed. But it's done. It's gone. I felt I could have jumped farther today.
"I'm pleased I jumped 8.17m I showed I could jump progressively farther through the rounds so it's not a total disaster for me. I came here with a season's best of 8.06m and I still managed fifth in the world. Last year was a disaster at the Olympics. This year I'll take it."