Rutherford ready to strike gold

New British long jump record holder aims to prove he was right not to become a footballer
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The Independent Online

Rather than becoming a long jumper and a potential medal-winning hero for the British athletics team at the World Championships here tonight, Greg Rutherford, might have followed the family football tradition and been a professional Villan instead.

Once upon a time, when he was a 14-year-old striker blessed with a lightning turn of pace, the Milton Keynes athlete – who broke the British long jump record with a leap of 8.30m in the qualifying round on Thursday – was sent for trials and training to Aston Villa.

"I went up with another guy from Milton Keynes called Mark Randall," Rutherford reflected, ahead of today's final in Berlin, for which he qualified with the second farthest jump, behind the 8.44m of American Dwight Phillips. "I decided to go down the athletics route after that, but Mark carried on with football and he's now playing for Arsenal, which is quite cool because my great granddad played for the club."

Jock Rutherford played his last game for Arsenal aged 41, still a club record, but made his name as a young flying right winger with the trailblazing Newcastle United side of the Edwardian era, winning three top-flight titles and appearing in five FA Cup finals for his hometown club. He also earned 11 caps for England.

Known as "the Newcastle flyer," he scored for the Magpies in the 1910 FA Cup final and played in front of a crowd of 101,117 in the 1906 final at the old Crystal Palace ground. There will be a little less in the Olympiastadion tonight – some 56,000 – to see if Jock's great grandson can rise to the big occasion of a World Championship final. A medal is certainly a possibility for the hugely gifted 22-year-old, whose performance on Thursday came after a three-year litany of illness and injury which included being taken to hospital with a kidney and lung infection after finishing 10th in the Olympic final in Beijing 12 months ago.

A silver medallist as a 19-year-old at the European Championships in Gothenburg in 2006, Rutherford was some 12cm short of the take-off board limit when he made his British record jump two days ago. "There is more in the tank," he said. "I can jump farther than that. I'm confident now. This is the biggest boost I've ever had."

Rutherford's 8.30m jump was a 1cm improvement on the previous national record, held by his training partner, Chris Tomlinson, who is also in today's final. Both are coached by Frank Attoh, the former international triple jumper who guided Jamaica's Trecia Smith to World Championship triple jump gold in 2005.

If Rutherford can rise to the occasion and make it to the rostrum tonight, he will find himself face to face with two people who know all about a rich family sporting pedigree: Marlene Dortch and Kai Long. The medals are to be presented by the granddaughter of Jesse Owens and the son of Luz Long, who won gold and silver in the long jump in the 1936 Olympics in the same Berlin arena.