GREG Rutherford has been overwhelmed by the support he has received since winning London 2012 gold, and on two public appearances in the city this week, made sure to thank the people of Milton Keynes – and his favourite local newspaper.
The 25-year-old Olympic long jump champion has become something of a celebrity since being part of arguably the greatest ever night of British sport two and a half weeks ago.
The Ginger Wizard made appearances on several TV shows last week, including News Night and the One Show, but he was also keen to thank the people of his home city for the fantastic support he’s received since the night that changed his life on Saturday, August 4.
Thanks to Milton Keynes Athletic Club, Rutherford was able to enjoy a couple of public outings, visiting Stantonbury Stadium on both Saturday – as part of the national ‘Join In’ sport campaign – and again on Tuesday evening, much to the delight of hundreds of well-wishers.
He said: “It’s absolutely lovely coming back to this. I’ve had such great support in Milton Keynes.
“People are so supportive of me, and the local Citizen has always got behind me. It’s just been fantastic.”
Milton Keynes Council may have been extremely slow out of the blocks in organising an occasion to honour Rutherford, but his home athletics club didn’t miss the opportunity to organise something of a homecoming party.
An estimated 500 people turned out to greet him at Stantonbury Stadium on Tuesday night, and the club has big plans to make sure the city will benefit from his Olympic success in the long term.
Rutherford is backing the club’s bid to build a brand new indoor training facility in the north of the city that will allow local youngsters the chance to train properly over the winter months.
That will involve raising funds from the council and sports-funding charities in the UK, but hopes are high that Rutherford’s London 2012 legacy will be a lasting and significant one.
For now he is enjoying his time in the limelight, and getting used to being recognised around Milton Keynes.
A professional athlete since his teens, the Citizen has reported Rutherford’s highs and lows throughout the years.
From his breakthrough European Championship silver medal of 2006 to his torn hamstring agony of the World Championships in 2011, the former Denbigh School student has been an inspirational figure in local sport, and now his years of determination and sacrifice are being celebrated.
“Seeing so many people support me is fantastic,” he said. “My major hope for everything now is that young people in Milton Keynes are really inspired by athletics – it’s just such a fun sport in be involved with.
“I’m getting used to being recognised now. I went into the city centre the other day to pick up a couple of things and found myself being stopped every couple of metres.
“It’s nice, people just want to say well done and shake your hand. I can’t thank everyone enough.”
What makes Rutherford’s golden year – which also includes a new personal best and British record equalling jump of 8.35 – even more remarkable, is that it’s still less than 12 months since he tore his hamstring in Daegu.
The anniversary of that day to forget comes next weekend, but it was from that low that the fuel of his Olympic triumph first started to burn.
Not many athletes could continue to pick themselves up and come back stronger from the sort of adversity that he became accustomed to.
The gold medal is just his third medal of an injury-hit career – the other being a silver at the 2010 Commonwealth Games – but few would be against him returning home with more in the years to come.
If young people in Milton Keynes are looking for an inspirational figure to look up to, then they need look no further.