JONATHAN Edwards believes Milton Keynes long-jumper Greg Rutherford can challenge for gold at London 2012 – and he should know.
Triple-jump world record holder Edwards, now a TV presenter, believes that injury to four-time World and 2004 Olympic champion Dwight Phillips has left the field wide open for the 25-year-old from Bletchley.
And he is urging Rutherford, who won the Olympic Trials in Birmingham ahead of national rival Chris Tomlinson to guarantee qualification for his home Games, to step up and challenge for the top of the podium come August.
“Greg has the equal world lead with a young Russian and I think the long-jump is wide open,” said Edwards, speaking as he launched Lloyds TSB’s National School Sport Week in London.
“I think there are five or six of them that could jump the 8.30m or 8.40m which could give them a medal, and maybe even a gold medal given that Dwight Phillips is out.
“Irving Saladino, I’m not sure where he is, but the guys who were jumping the 8.50m or 8.60m don’t seem to be around any more.
“So I think 8.30m or 8.40m could perhaps win it for you, and I think Greg is definitely capable of that. Long-jump is wide open in the world though.”
American Phillips has a personal best of 8.74m but has been suffering with an Achilles injury which kept him out of the infamously unforgiving USA trials.
The 34-year-old didn’t get to defend his title from the Athens Games after finishing fourth at the trials in 2008 and was left out of the USA Olympic squad, with Irving Saladino from Panama taking gold in Beijing with a best of 8.34m – a distance Rutherford is more than capable of beating this year.
Rutherford, who equalled Tomlinson’s British long-jump record of 8.35m at a pre-Olympics meet in California in May, jumped 8.12m at the UK Trials and declared himself unhappy with the performance after a great start to the season.
That was far better than Tomlinson though as he jumped 7.70m, meaning the man from Middlesbrough is now relying on the selectors granting him an Olympic spot.
Edwards was disappointed with Tomlinson’s performance, but also feels Rutherford could have done better too.
He said: “To be jumping 7.70m something is not great. It’s half a metre down on where he (Tomlinson) would want to be. That said, Greg only jumped 8.12m so he would have been hoping to have jumped more.
“You saw what Shara Proctor jumped the next day with a new British record so clearly it’s not a bad place to jump.
“I think Proctor’s performance over the three days was probably the most significant at world level this year.
“If she jumps 6.95m in the Games I think she almost certainly wins a medal which would be a brilliant performance. I think she goes into London 2012 as one of our real bright hopes.”
Meanwhile, Rutherford has one more chance to jump big on home spoil before the Games when he competes at the Diamond League British Grand Prix at Crystal Palace next weekend.
>> The Lloyds TSB National School Sport Week took place from 25-29 June 2012 and is Britain’s biggest school sport event with more than four million pupils staging their own Games this year. Find out more at lloydstsb.com/london2012