Greg Rutherford believes his growing aura of invincibility – as well as the unerring ability to pull out a big jump when it matters – can propel him to another Olympic gold medal in Rio next month.
The 29-year-old was not at his supreme best in these European Championships, having not competed for a month because of a severe inner ear condition due to whiplash, but was still able to find a fifth-round jump of 8.25m to retain his title.
And Rutherford, who holds the Olympic, world, Commonwealth and European crowns, says he has no concerns despite his recent injury problems as he finalises his preparations for Rio. “I know every time I go into a major people look at me as the one to beat and that’s a great place for me to be,” he said. “And I feel that, if I’m in a final, I’m always going to produce. On Tuesday I was very rusty in qualifying, because I’ve had a month out due to this neck and ear thing, but by the time Rio comes around I won’t be in that position.”
Rutherford is ranked joint eighth in the 2016 IAAF rankings, having leaped 8.31m this season, but says he is not concerned by his American rivals all jumping further than him at the US trials last week – Jeff Henderson won the competition with 8.59m, 1cm clear of Jarrion Lawson.
“You see these marks all over the world at different times and it always changes when you come to a major championships,” Rutherford said.
“Last year the US trials were won in 8.67m, for goodness sake. I still became the world champion. Everyone has mentioned that the Americans are jumping well this year too. But I beat Henderson earlier in the season – and I’ll be looking to do that again when it comes to the Olympics.”
Rutherford next plans to compete in Stockholm during the week but will skip the Anniversary Games in London in a fortnight’s time to go back to Phoenix to train with his legendary coach, the American Dan Pfaff, who has been having chemotherapy for a stomach illness.
“It’s because Dan can’t travel overseas because he’s very unwell at the moment,” Rutherford said. “It’s not easy and his immune system is nonexistent because of what they are putting into him. He picked up a small cold and then for five weeks was knocked out by it.
“But I need to be spending time with him, because he’s the guy that gets me in the positions to win these titles. He’s a genius at what he does. He was on the phone to the people helping me in between rounds here in Amsterdam – they were sending him videos for his feedback.
“He’s a wonderful man and incredibly special and important to me,” he added.
“He is having his last sort of course of chemo in a few days and then he’s hoping the bloods come back all right. But he’s said no matter what happens, he’s going to travel to Rio. So I’ll finally have Dan at a competition and that fills me with confidence as well. That guy, no matter what’s going on, knows what to say to me to get me jumping – he just says small things that triggers something within me and generally I can produce something off that.”
Rutherford was in a more lighthearted mood as he jokingly dismissed Cristiano Ronaldo’s enormous leap for his headed goal against Wales as “pretty weak”.
“It looked like a 70cm box jump,” he said, smiling. “So I’m happy to challenge Cristiano Ronaldo to a jump-off at any point. Please bring it on, winner takes all.”
When it was suggested that the pair could put £10,000 each on the table for a winner-takes“I’ll race him as well if he fancies it,” he added, before floating the idea that the competition could take place in his back garden, where he has built an IAAF-certified long jump pit. “Imagine having Cristiano Ronaldo in my back garden? That would be hilarious – I don’t think it will ever happen but I’-all bet, Rutherford said he would be “absolutely” up for it.
m always open to these things,” he said. “If he wants a jump-off, he’ll lose, but I think the likes of Ronaldo are a little bit above long jumpers like myself.”
Meanwhile the IAAF president, Sebastian Coe, has said the Olympic Games will suffer if Usain Bolt fails to recover in time for Rio. The reigning 100m and 200m champion withdrew from the Jamaican trials last weekend with a tear in his hamstring but Lord Coe said he is encouraged by reports that Bolt will be back in time. “Clearly it would be a bit of a showstopper if he wasn’t there,” he said. “I’ve rarely been to a championship at any level which has depended on one athlete, but I do accept that he is fairly exceptional.”
Coe also revealed that he had met the Russian whistleblower Yuliya Stepanova and invited her to be involved in a task force that looks at the pressures on athletes to cheat. However, he sidestepped a question over whether athletics had hit rock bottom due to its corruption and doping scandals. “There is a real appetite for change, and that change is not tweaking at the margins,” he said. “It’s a fundamental change. If we get where we want to be by the end of the year I think we will have a sport that looks very different.
“We have two challenges,” he added. “One is the safety of the organisation as an international federation, and the second – which is for me as big as anything – is returning trust to what you see. The clean athletes have got to know that we are in their corner, and I’m hoping that what we’ve done in the last few weeks [with the decision to exclude Russia from the Olympics] is beginning to show that.”
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