Greg Rutherford believes he is in the best shape of his career and the Olympic long jump champion is thriving under the pressure of being the bookmakers’ favourite for the Rio Games.
Rutherford, who is in action at the Rome Diamond League on Thursday before jumping in Birmingham on Sunday, has not a lost in 10 competitions since coming third in the London Anniversary Games in July last year and says he now expects to become Olympic champion again.
“Arguably I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been,” said Rutherford, who has already jumped further than 8.30m twice while winning all six events in which he has competed this season.
“Results will always reflect that and I’ve never started with the distances I’ve opened up with. It was also nice to get that early win over one of my main rivals, Jeff Henderson, in Long Beach.”
The 29-year-old faces even tougher competition in Rome from the three men who have the longest jumps in the world in 2016. Among his rivals are Marquise Goodwin, who has a world-leading 8.45m after taking a brief sabbatical from his National Football League career with the Buffalo Bills to attempt Olympic qualification, and the South African Rushwal Samaai, who has jumped 8.38m.
The American Mike Hartfield, who has leapt 8.34m, is another significant threat but Rutherford still believes in himself. “I like to think that going in as defending Olympic champion and current world champion, they look at me as one of their main rivals,” he said.
“I completely respect the fact that all these guys can do really well on the day and jump very far. But I still see all of them as people I can beat. As long as I’m going in to a championships fit and healthy there’s no reason I can’t win it. It’s my best start to the season ever. And I’m unbeaten for nearly a year, so it’s not going too bad.”
Rutherford is also getting used to the fact he is a favourite for the Games – something that was not the case at the London Olympics four years ago.
“A few people still owe me a drink from 2012 because they put bets on me when it was long odds and they did quite well out of it,” he said, smiling. “But this is where I have always wanted to be. I won’t shy away from saying I always put a lot of pressure on myself. I expect to win, and when I don’t I understand what comes with that as well. And that’s fine.
“I will go into the Olympic Games expecting to win the Olympic Games. It is just how I see it and it’s no disrespect to everybody else because there are some very good jumpers there. It’s great that I’m the bookies’ favourite, and I quite like that. I don’t think I’ve been bookies’ favourite for anything before now.”
Rutherford, who holds the world, Commonwealth and European titles, attributes his form to spending the winter with his American coach, Dan Pfaff, in Arizona, where he set several personal bests lifting weights in the gym and also further honed his technique.
“This year I’ve heavily invested in going to America in order to see Dan and train with his group,” Rutherford said. “I’ve never done anything that long before and it was hugely beneficial. It just felt that when we were living in Arizona I was cracking on with some really good work. I am very happy with the team around me. My coach is a bit of a genius.
“I had a little adductor problem and stupid chest infection that wrote off the indoor season but that quickly passed and I was training really well again. It was a fantastic three months in Arizona so I think I’ve benefited hugely from it.”
Rutherford said he was also reaping the rewards of many years’ experience and training at the top level. “I am getting a bit old now, which does help on some levels because the experience of how your body reacts to training helps hugely.”
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