In any other era, Greg Rutherford probably wouldn’t have been an Olympic champion. His winning mark of 8.31m in London would not have won gold in any other Games since Tokyo 1964, or set a world lead in any of the past 40 years. Had rivals Dwight Phillips and Irving Saladino been fit then it might not have been enough in 2012, either.
But Rutherford possessed a determination which transformed him from a talented long jumper into a multiple champion. He summoned extra reserves of speed and power when the pressure was most intense, from the humid Beijing air of the Bird’s Nest where he clinched his world title to that spine-tingling hour on Super Saturday at London 2012. Even in another era, you suspect he would have found a way to compete.
Rutherford’s success – Olympic, world, Commonwealth and double European champion, Diamond League winner and British record holder – was achieved despite countless hamstring injuries, a groin reconstruction and five ankle surgeries. With no feats left to conquer, he has decided not to put himself through any more of those aches and pains and has announced this will be his final season.
The 31-year-old has set his sights on one final goal before hanging up his spikes, aiming to complete a hat-trick of European titles this summer in Berlin. A career in the media is a likely and obvious route for a popular personality, while he has sounded out the idea of taking up professional cycling, something that has long been a staple in his training regime both in the gym and on the roads around his Bedfordshire home.
If that sounds like lofty ambition then it probably is, but such is Rutherford’s boundless confidence he will try anyway. He has never really done humility, carrying himself with a brazen self-assurance in the face of his doubters which sets him apart from other British athletes. “I sit here as the greatest long jumper Great Britain has ever had…” read his retirement statement on Instagram on Wednesday, beneath a shirtless selfie profile photo.
That streak of conviction underpinned his habit of speaking his mind on matters regarding UK Athletics and the IAAF, and in opening his heart with honesty after both success and defeat (“this is the most incredible feeling of my entire life”, said a stunned Rutherford immediately after winning Olympic gold), and ultimately it is an attitude which has carried him to the very limits of his body’s capabilities.
In the stadium after that London success he made a point of crediting his coach Dan Pfaff, who pieced together a technique for Rutherford partly based upon Carl Lewis. Notably, Rutherford also thanked his therapist, Dr Gerry Ramogida, who helped build his impenetrable wall of confidence, without which the long jumper surely could not have succeeded.
It is the injuries which he battled through that have ultimately caused his retirement, and after so many years hauling his crumbling body through the air, it has finally brought him back down to earth. He will go out as one of Britain’s most successful athletes, the man from Milton Keynes who conquered the world, and he will forever be remembered for his part in one British sport’s greatest nights.