NOT only did Greg Rutherford write his own name into the history books on Saturday night, but he also laid the foundations for the next generation of potential Olympic champions to come from Milton Keynes, writes Simon Downes.
The city had been crying out for some genuine sporting inspiration, and the 25-year-old from Bletchley gave any budding young athlete from his home town the ultimate shot in the arm and confidence boost when he leaped 8.31m to claim long jump gold in the Olympic Stadium.
Those who knew him before London 2012 will tell you that Rutherford was already one of the most popular men in British athletics, and on Saturday night the whole country got to share in his excitement, while Milton Keynes started to get to know its new Olympic champion.
Despite flying all over the world to compete, Rutherford has never strayed too far from home, and recently bought a house in Woburn Sands with his girlfriend. He was no stranger to major competitions and success before his magical weekend, but Rutherford would have been free to walk down his local high street or Central Milton Keynes without too much attention.
All that will change now. But the former Denbigh School student is very outgoing – never one to shy away from the cameras and always open and honest with the media. Bubbly, enthusiastic and likeable are just three of the words that spring to mind when trying to describe his character. His self-proclaimed Ginger Wizard nickname perfectly epitomises his personality.
His confidence is not arrogance, but a vital necessity to any elite sportsman or woman trying to reach the top of their profession. Rutherford did that in front of a crowd of 80,000 and millions watching on TV, including thousands of young people in Milton Keynes.
They surely could not help but be inspired by his performance, and those of Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah whose achievements made Saturday night arguably the greatest night ever in British sporting history.
Milton Keynes already boasts one of the country’s most impressive athletics clubs and Rutherford’s gold medal glory would not have been possible were it not for the grounding he had at the Stantonbury track now appearing regularly on regional news programmes.
The man himself craved success – it really was his be all and end all – but at the same time he always said it would never change him. Time will tell, but one thing is for sure, his gold medal has vastly increased the chances of Milton Keynes having more Olympic champions to celebrate in the years ahead.