GREG Rutherford made winning Olympic gold look easy on Saturday night, but his inspiring long jump performance only came about after years of blood, sweat and tears.
Rutherford blew the final field away amid a cacophony of noise inside the Olympic Stadium, leaping 8.31m to finish well clear of Australia’s Mitchell Watt (8.16m) and Will Claye (8.12m) of the USA, while fellow Brit Chris Tomlinson finished sixth with a best of 8.07m.
In fact Rutherford’s second best jump of the night (8.21m) would still have seen him win gold, but managing to channel the electric energy of the crowd, his fourth round jump proved the biggest of an historic night for British sport.
Throughout the competition, Rutherford looked extremely calm and confident, just as he did in Friday night’s qualifying round when a jump of 8.08m saw him safely through to his career defining final.
Soaking up the atmosphere, the 25-year-old was determined to enjoy every minute of the occasion, and when Claye’s final jump didn’t get close to his best, the man from Bletchley stood with one finger aloft – confirmed as the Olympic champion.
The excitement then got the better of him as he ran through the pit on his sixth and final jump, but with the gold medal already in the bag it didn’t matter, and no-one could begrudge Rutherford his moment in the spotlight.
After his breakthrough senior performance in winning silver at the European Championships in Gothenburg, Rutherford struggled to control his undoubtedly talented body as hamstring injuries threatened to hinder his progress.
His first Olympic experience in Beijing in 2008 promised so much but ultimately didn’t bare fruit, and further disappointment followed at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, despite breaking the previous national record in qualifying with a jump of 8.30m.
Another silver medal arrived at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, but probably Rutherford’s greatest anguish came at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu when a hamstring tear saw him ruled out of the competition and out of action for several months. The image of him laid stricken in the sand pit in South Korea could have haunted him for the rest of his life.
But since that day Rutherford has been working towards London 2012, dreaming of the night he enjoyed in front of his incredibly supportive parents and the entire nation.
Few have sacrificed more than him in the pursuit of glory, while managing to pick themselves up from despair to come back time and time again, and jump further time and time again.
His career best and joint British record of 8.35m was set at the start of an incredible season for Rutherford – a year in which he has moulded his own style around that of former American long jump Olympic champion Carl Lewis.
That new style has allowed him to go injury free during 2012, and a fully fit Greg Rutherford is a very confident and very talented athlete.
“I looked at the competition and they didn’t seem to have the same spark as they normally do,” he said the morning after winning in London. “I knew that if I could get a big jump in early on that I could blow them away.
“The crowd were fantastic, getting progressively louder for every jump. It was amazing. I’ve competed in front of big crowds before, but in front of 80,000 people all wanting you to win was something else.
“I’m fortunate to have a great team of people around me and the summer has gone perfectly. I’ve given everything I could to do this.”
Rutherford’s confidence should not be mistaken for arrogance. He has worked tirelessly and sacrificed much to achieve what he did on Saturday night, and Milton Keynes could not wish for a better sporting icon and role model.