Rutherford comes good and takes surprise gold in long jump

After years of illness and injury virtual unknown takes Britain's first men's long jump title since 1964

The nation was still applauding Jessica Ennis's triumph when Greg Rutherford, a virtually unknown athlete who considered quitting athletics after the last Olympics, jumped into the record books, claiming Britain's first long jump gold medal in nearly half a century.

It is a measure of the extraordinary success for Team GB yesterday that what should have been an amazing achievement was just one more win at the Olympic Stadium.

The 25-year-old undoubtedly drew inspiration from the deafening applause to jump 8.31m and claim Britain's 13th gold medal of the Games. His jump was 15cm longer than that of Australia's Mitch Watt in second (8.16m) and the American Will Claye in third (8.12m).

His feat is all the more remarkable because Britain has not won gold in the men's long jump since Lynn Davies in 1964.

The gold medal marks an extraordinary comeback for the man from Milton Keynes whose last Olympic outing was somewhat unremarkable: he finished 10th in the Olympic final ending up in the back of an ambulance the following day and on the verge of quitting athletics altogether.

Last night, he said: "I knew I was in great shape. My team are incredible and I have the most amazing parents and beautiful girlfriend in the world. I've got a pretty good life, and everybody has worked so hard for me.

"I thought I would jump further, but I don't care. I'm Olympic champion. What a night for British athletics: three gold medals. I can't thank everyone enough.

"This is what I have dreamed of my whole life and to do it in London is just incredible, I might wake up in a minute."

Those who know Rutherford best will argue that this moment has been on the cards for some time. A Commonwealth silver medallist, he has worked on his technique in recent years but went out in the qualifying round of the World Championships in Daegu with a torn hamstring. In an interview earlier this week, he said: "I expect nothing less than winning a medal. I'd be devastated to come away without one – it would make my year a complete disaster, no matter what I did before or afterwards."

He was just 19 when he jumped 8.27m and, that year, won silver at the European Championships in 2006. But the following few seasons were plagued by illness, catching tonsilitis eight times in one year, and injury.

In 2008, just as he thought he was finally returning to form, tragedy struck, as his grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer a week before the UK trials. Promising his grandfather that he would do his best, he managed a jump of 8.20m to send him to Beijing.

Last night he could finally close the chapter on his struggles.

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