Rutherford plants new roots in Arizona


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The Independent Online

Greg Rutherford was retracing his family roots yesterday. The London 2012 long jump champion had his Olympic gold medal with him for the launch of the 2013 European Team Championships at Gateshead, across the Tyne from St James' Park, where his late great-grandfather won three top-flight titles as a flying winger with the footballing Magpies in Edwardian times.

He was also planning for the future: for a Transatlantic leap that will more likely than not result in him planting new roots in the Arizona Desert.

Two weeks after he brought his Midas touch to bear on that never to be forgotten "Super Saturday" night in the Olympic Stadium (in between Jessica Ennis' gold-clinching moment in the heptathlon and Mo Farah's winning 10,000m run), Rutherford revealed that he would follow his coach to the United States if Dan Pfaff decided to leave the employ of UK Athletics and return home. It has since been confirmed that Pfaff will depart when his contract expires next month, and Rutherford is in the process of finalising plans to join him in the United States.

"It looks as if we're going to be based in Phoenix, Arizona," the 26-year-old Milton Keynes athlete said. "That's still not 100 per cent confirmed but it's a little bit more confirmed than things have been. I'm very hopeful that that will be the case, because ultimately I need to stay working with Dan.

"Dan got me to where I am now. He's got me a lot more consistent. And I think, going forward over the next couple of years, that could be the platform for me to jump very far."

Some of the group Pfaff coached at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre in north London are to split their time between Cardiff, where they will work under the direction of Australian Scott Simpson, and Phoenix, where they will link up with Pfaff. Rutherford, however, intends to stick full-time with the mentor who has transformed him from an injury-prone underachiever into an Olympic champion.

"I don't have any desire to move to Cardiff," he said. "As it stands, there's nothing there for me. I see myself being in a much better position if I'm based in the heat as long as I possibly can. I'm talking about going out to Phoenix from mid-January through to June and then coming home for the outdoor track season."

And for those European Team Championships, which take place at the International Stadium in Gateshead on 22 and 23 June. It will be the third time that the event has been staged at the Tyneside track, the British men's team having famously prevailed there in 1989 and 2000.

That, however, was when the competition was in its European Cup format, before the men's and women's sections were merged.

For Rutherford, it will be an opportunity to shine on his great-grandfather's home turf. Jock Rutherford was a right-winger who became known as "the Newcastle flyer". He won three championship titles and appeared in five FA Cup finals for Newcastle, won 11 England caps and played in the old First Division for Arsenal at the age of 41.

"I'd love to get to St James' Park and have a good look at the museum there," Greg said. "I have the books that mention my great-granddad. It's something that's close to my heart. I always have a little bit of a soft spot for Newcastle but, being a Man United fan, I can't be too soft."

Having undergone surgery to repair a long-term foot problem and two hernias five weeks ago, Rutherford is itching to get back into the soft stuff of the sand pit in training once again.

"They were all on-going problems," he said. "I'd been having pain-killing injections in my foot for the past three years.

"The recovery has been amazing and hopefully it won't be long now until I can get in the sand again. I'm missing it like there was no tomorrow.

"Working with Dan is what's fuelling me. I want to get out there and train hard. I want to jump a respectable distance. I know I can jump a lot farther than 8.35m.

"I want to win some other titles. I want to show I'm not just a one-trick pony."

Paralympics coach set to be unveiled

UK Athletics is planning to announce another key appointment today. Neil Black having been appointed as performance director and Peter Eriksson as Olympic head coach, a replacement for Eriksson as Paralympic head coach is due to be unveiled in Loughborough. Eriksson guided Britain to 29 medals, 11 of them gold, at the London Paralympics.

Meanwhile, Jessica Ennis's coach Toni Minichiello was named coach of the year at the 2012 Coaching Awards ceremony in London. Minichiello, who coached Ennis to London Olympic gold in the heptathlon, received his award from HRH the Princess Royal.

Simon Turnbull