Greg Rutherford: ‘Strictly helped me to not dwell on the Rio Olympics’

Greg Rutherford

Last month you were the ninth celebrity to leave Strictly Come Dancing.

You seemed almost teary – how upset were you?It was always going to be disappointing, because you want to go as far as you possibly can. It takes up all of your life: I was in the training room with Nat probably 10 to 12 hours a day most days. But equally, I could see there were better dancers than me. I was never kidding myself that I was some super-dancer who was going to set the floor alight.

You seemed unhappy to only win a bronze in the long jump at the Rio Olympics, after gold at London 2012. Did Strictly take your mind off that?
Yeah, I think it helped me not dwell on what happened in Rio. I didn’t get the result I was really hoping for at the Olympics, and I said I’d either do nothing until Christmas, so I’d probably get very fat eating cakes, or I could learn a new skill. The only thing is that I’d said no to Strictly for the last few years because it wasn’t the right time, and when I finally agreed to do it, it just so happens that it’s the strongest group of dancers that have ever been on.

Who’s your money on then?
Oof, Danny [Mac] probably. He’s one of the greatest dancers ever on Strictly, he’s arguably as good as a lot of the pros. So if we’re just going on talent – if you’re the best, you normally win, that’s how it is in my sport – then him, but it’s down to the public vote. Louise [Redknapp] is exceptional as well, and Claudia [Fragapane] I think is wonderful.

Greg Rutherford and Natalie Lowe on Strictly Come Dancing

Most people first took notice of you on Super Saturday in 2012, when you, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Mo Farah all won golds in 46 minutes. If you’d won on, say, a Monday afternoon, would you not have stuck in people’s heads?
Absolutely, 100%. Me being sandwiched between Jess and Mo is one of the best moments of my career and I was very, very lucky to share a night with two of Great Britain’s greatest ever athletes. I just basically managed to get on the back of that, I suppose. It was brilliant for me.

In your autobiography, Unexpected, you reveal you went off the rails a bit after London: the parties, freebies, waking up in the morning wanting a vodka. Is that an easy trap for an athlete to fall into?
Possibly. London was so massive, especially to somebody like me, who’d never experienced anything like that before, to suddenly be involved in one of the biggest nights in British sporting history. And I was made aware very quickly that people would forget you; that was something that a lot of people said. So yeah it was about making hay while the sun shines, and I did enjoy it. But by the time it did get to late December, three or four months after the Olympics, I felt I needed to go back to being an athlete again. I remember thinking, “This is hard work! I’m tired all the time.”

Did your success change you?
I had a very normal, basic upbringing and I hope more than anything that that stays with me for the rest of my life. But it was a massive shock not just for me, but for my family as well. You go from seeing your family quite regularly to being in and out of London all the time and leading a completely different lifestyle. One time I appeared on Celebrity Juice and it was quite a rude episode and my parents really struggled with that.

Didn’t Keith Lemon do a skit about “jump face or cum face”?
Yeah, I come from a religious background, so when somebody is making rude comments, they didn’t really know how to deal with that.

Your parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses – when did you realise you weren’t going to follow that path?
When I was about 12 or 13 I started to lose interest in that side of things. I just thought, “I’m going to make my own decisions, I have my own views.” I don’t follow a religion now, but I think it gave me a good sense of moral beliefs. I’ve taken that on to hopefully being a well-rounded, nice person.

As a child, you never celebrated Christmas or birthdays. Do you go overboard now?
It’s funny because we just celebrated my 30th birthday and a load of friends got together and we stayed at a place in Oxfordshire. There was a moment when the birthday cake got brought in and they sang Happy Birthday and it makes me feel so incredibly awkward still. So when I receive presents I get very awkward but I take such delight in giving people presents.

You recently put a long-jump pit in your back garden. What do you think that’s done to the value of your house?
That’s a very good question. I don’t think we’ll be here for ever, so how on earth am I going to market a long-jump pit in the garden? It’s a work tool for me, but for anybody else, I have no idea. I suppose it gives a young family somewhere to play and a flat area.

You’ve said that where other people eat ice-cream or watch TV, you buy dogs. What is it about them you find therapeutic?
They just love you no matter what. My first two, Murphy and Dexter, came along in 2007, when I wasn’t a particularly great or well-known athlete, and whenever I was struggling with things, I’d go home and they were just as happy to see me whether I’d done well or badly. So they’ve been instrumental in me being in the right frame of mind to go and succeed.

Unlike many top sportsmen, you don’t have a nickname. Do you have one we don’t know about?
Um, no, I don’t think I have a distinctive nickname. For a while it was the Ginger Wizard, because whenever I got badly injured, I’d still be able to come back quickly and do well in competitions. So I guess I’m looking for a nickname that will stick – can we try to find a good nickname that doesn’t just involve being called Ginge? Because if there’s one thing I hate it’s being called Ginge.

Unexpected by Greg Rutherford is out now (Simon & Schuster £20). To order a copy for £16.40 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Interview by Tim Lewis, for The Observer on Sunday 11th December 2016 09.00 Europe/London

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