Rutherford left bamboozled by the emotions of an Olympic champion


Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was fair to say that Greg Rutherford was in a state of some disorientation the day after the 8.31m leap that won him Olympic long jump gold. "I don't think it's completely hit me," he confessed. "I can say, 'Yes, I'm an Olympic champion now,' which is something I've wanted my entire life, but the emotion that comes with that… I am not quite sure how to take it on board. It's a very, very strange feeling."

But not quite as strange as the feeling Rutherford had the morning after the 2008 Olympic final. "My body seemed to shut down and I was found in my bed by my room-mate, not really very responsive," he recounted. "Then the doctors came up, put me in the back of an ambulance, took me to hospital, pumped me full of whatever I needed, and a few days later I was back home in bed recovering."

At 25, the Milton Keynes athlete has endured a roller-coaster ride to the Olympian peak he scaled with his fourth-round jump on Saturday night. The nadir came four years ago when his beloved grandfather died in the run-up to the Beijing Games and then he woke up the day before the final – in which he somehow managed to place 10th – with a kidney infection, a lung infection and tonsillitis.

Not that the zenith of Super Saturday was without its worries for Rutherford. "To have my parents in the crowd just after I'd won was a bit tear-jerking," he said. "It was so emotional for them. You forget they are probably more nervous than you are.

"I was genuinely concerned for my father. I was thinking, 'He is going to have a heart attack. Someone needs to be there with a defibrillator just in case'. Luckily, I saw him last night so he is alive at the moment. If anyone sees an old bloke collapse it might be my old man, so be careful. I've got such a fantastically supportive family."

Britain's first men's Olympic long jump champion since Lynn Davies in 1964 has a fantastic family sporting heritage too. His great-grandfather was one of the great British footballers of Edwardian times.

Jock Rutherford, a right-winger known as "the Newcastle flyer," won three championship titles and appeared in five FA Cup finals for Newcastle United. He won 11 caps for England and played for Arsenal at the age of 41, which remains a club record.

His great-grandson trained with the Aston Villa academy as a 14-year-old but, thankfully, Greg chose to use his lightning pace as a long jumper rather than a flying winger. "I am pleased I picked track over football, because I don't think I could have emulated anything like my great-grandfather achieved," he said. "It's worked out quite well."

It has that. Rutherford has long been a potential world-beater. He won a European Championship silver medal as a 19-year-old in Gothenburg in 2006. His progress since then has been held back by injury but he has started to fulfil his huge promise under the direction of Dan Pfaff, the coach who guided Donovan Bailey to Olympic 100m gold for Canada in 1996.

"It's the first season I have been injury-free," Rutherford said. "I don't have to touch wood any more because I have got through it. I have always said that I could win majors and jump far.

"I didn't jump massive last night but it was enough to win and that's what it's all about. I would have been happy with seven metres if it meant I won Olympic gold.

"It's been a tough path. It's never really gone my way and now all of a sudden I'm here – fit and healthy and Olympic champion."

Had the impact of his part in Super Saturday hit home, though? "Not yet," Rutherford replied. "There have been lots of great messages and if we have gone out there and inspired people that would be absolutely fantastic. That's part of why we do it.

"I haven't felt any of it yet, but I am hoping there are a couple of kids out there that are thinking, 'I will do long jump now; that ginger guy was pretty good.

"The likes of Jess and Mo have been there for a couple of years, doing incredible things. They have been inspiring for a long time and I am hoping I can jump on that now and be inspiring too."

But as a gold-topped hero rather than a ginger role model, surely? "Yes, some people have said that the medal is going to clash with my hair," Rutherford pondered. "I am a bit concerned with that."