Greg Rutherford has told his critics to finally recognise him as a “half-decent athlete” after becoming only the fifth Briton to hold Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth gold medals at the same time.
Rutherford has been accused of being lucky throughout his career, and on the eve of the long jump final in Beijing was told by the BBC pundit Michael Johnson “to do more jumping and less talking”. Rutherford’s riposte after winning world championship gold with a leap of 8.41m was short but sharp.
“Well, Michael, how do you like me now?” he said, with a playful grin. “I am world champion.”
The 28-year-old has admitted it had been difficult to ignore the critics who have plagued him ever since he won gold at London 2012 with a relatively modest leap. “The flak I took after winning the Olympics has been tough and at times you think ‘why am I bothering doing this?’ so to win a couple of titles last year and win again this year it’s great. I’m the Olympic, world, Commonwealth and European champion. I’m hoping that’s enough for people to accept I am a half-decent British athlete now.”
Rutherford joins Daley Thompson, Sally Gunnell, Jonathan Edwards and Linford Christie in the pantheon of those athletes who have held all four titles concurrently. But he admitted that he feared for his chances in Beijing after waking up on Tuesday morning with a headache – especially as seven years ago he had suffered a kidney infection and tonsillitis on the day of the 2008 Olympic long jump final. “I had a horrible headache, and had to see the doctor,” he said. “I just thought, ‘This can’t happen again.’
“At about 2pm this afternoon, I thought: ‘Flipping heck, I won’t be able to jump, I feel so rough.’ I had to take a lot of paracetamols and hope for the best. I felt a bit groggy while I was warming up but when I got out into the stadium I instantly got pumped up again and couldn’t wait to get going.”
It was a stiff pep talk from his adviser Dan Pfaff, who coached him during London 2012 before moving to the US, that led to the huge fourth round jump that assured him of victory. “Dan basically told me after the third round: ‘What on earth are you playing at? Why are you failing such massive jumps?” he said. “Just get on in and close the night. And the next round I managed to catch one.”
Rutherford, who struggled to hold back the tears after his victory, revealed that his 10-month son Milo had helped him get into the mindset to win gold. “I was watching videos of that little boy all day saying ‘dad’ with me playing with him,” he said. “When I was away he took his first couple of steps and I missed it, but when I called home I heard him in the background and that just pumped me up.”
His triumph provided Britain with their third gold medal of these world championships, following on from Mo Farah on Saturday and Jessica Ennis-Hill on Sunday. Rutherford admitted that he felt the pressure to live up to their achievements, especially after making headlines in the build-up to Beijing by criticising British Athletics for not having the union flag on the team vest and by calling the country’s governing body “more of a hindrance than a help”.
“When Jess won my Twitter feed instantly went ‘Greg Rutherford now has to win,’” he said. “So I came off social media and everything else and thought I’m just going to calm it down and focus.
“I take my hat off to Jess and Mo. Jess came back a year after giving birth, poor Mo comes back after an absolute torrent of abuse all year. They both go out and become world champions again. Then the ginger one from ‘Super Saturday’ comes out and does it again as well. I’m pretty happy with that because I think if I didn’t I would have been in a bit of trouble.”
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