So after a little break away from writing whilst dealing with some stuff, I want to get back into the swing of just writing about athletics again as I enjoyed doing it. There are a fair few things I can still write about including more year in reviews, thinking about Rio next year and so on but to just get started again I wanted to write about something I could easily write about, so here it goes.
One of my favourite athletes since I became a fan is Greg Rutherford. I first saw him in 2006 during the European Championships and he was just a 19 year old at the time and had been the European Junior Champion the year before. He won a silver medal there with one of his last jumps and when trying to judge the distance he just gave this shrug to the crowd in a ‘maybe I’ve got a medal there?’ kind of way. For some reason I just quite liked him after that. The fact he was a Manchester United fan as well sealed the deal for me!
Then jumping ahead a bit to London 2012. Greg had suffered a lot of problems in the previous 6 years, including many injuries, illness and family bereavement which made it much harder for him to compete with the very best. He’d won a silver medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and was 5th in the World Championships in 2009, where he set the then British record of 8.30m in qualifying. During 2012, Greg was jumping pretty well and by the time the Olympics came around, he was ranked joint 1st in the world with 8.35m which actually equalled Chris Tomlinson’s record which he had set the previous year.
After qualifying he was comfortably through as only 7.94m was required to make it. Interestingly though, the previous Olympic Champion Irving Saladino had 3 fouls and was out and a few other decent names were out too. In the Final took the lead with 8.21m in the second round (which in the end would have enough to win) and then jumped 8.31m in the fourth round to all but confirm his win which he of course went on to do. It, of course, was part of Super Saturday when Britain won 3 gold medals within 45 minutes with Greg’s win in between Jessica Ennis’ Gold and Mo Farah’s dramatic win to end the most successful day in British Athletics and Olympic history.
Then something kind of weird happened. People were no doubt happy that Greg won and he was perhaps always going to be a little bit overshadowed by Farah’s and Jess’ win, but then he got the ‘lucky’ tag attached to him. I’m not sure I can ever understand why any British person, journalist or otherwise, would say that. Considering the many injuries he had suffered, the passing of his grandfather just before the 2008 Olympics where he also suffered from illness, you would have thought his story would have been the triumph over adversity and never giving up to reach your goals kind of story which in fact his story pretty much was. Maybe it was because he wasn’t expected to win (it wasn’t THAT much of a surprise that he won though) but whatever the reason it was strange that they went with the he was lucky to win label. I am not sure there was any other British Olympic champion that year who had those kind of things said about them.
The reason people said he was lucky was because his winning distance was the lowest since 1972 when Randy Williams (USA) won with 8.24m. He had actually jumped longer in qualifying with 8.34m which thankfully no one ever picked up on! Otherwise they would have gone back to 1964 when another Britain in Lynn Davies won. Hmmm, funny that!
Comparing distances is always a bit of a difficult way to judge whether someone was lucky or not to win anyway, because the conditions could be wildly different between the different games and then there are the variables such as wind or altitude as well. However, it was just a bit weird. It was almost as if people were saying, ‘Well you won, but really you shouldn’t have won with ONLY jumping 8.31m’. It’s a stupid argument to be honest. Firstly, you can only beat who was there. Shouldn’t the rest of the field be criticised as no one apart from Greg jumped over 8.20m that night? There were people who were capable of doing so yet no one was able to it on the night. Secondly, in the context of that year, 8.31m was at the top end of men’s long jumping. 8.35m was the world lead that Rutherford shared going into the Olympics so he jumped pretty close to his maximum when he won. Yes global Long Jump standards have dropped a bit at the top end the last few years (that was in fairness the lowest world lead for quite some time) but on that night, you can’t say he was lucky to win. If Mike Powell, Carl Lewis and Bob Beamon were jumping at their peak in that competition too, then maybe luck would have had to be on his side in order to win, but they weren’t so it didn’t matter!
So having said that comparisons are a little bit difficult, lets completely go back on that and have a quick look at the medal winning jumps at Olympic Games since 1972 with what 8.31 would have done at those games in brackets:
1972: 1st: 8.24; 2nd: 8.18; 3rd: 8.03 (would have been 1st)
1976: 1st: 8.35; 2nd: 8.11; 3rd: 8.02 (would have been 2nd)
1980: 1st: 8.54; 2nd: 8.21; 3rd: 8.18 (would have been 2nd)
1984: 1st: 8.54; 2nd: 8.24; 3rd: 8.24 (would have been 2nd)
1988: 1st: 8.72; 2nd: 8.47; 3rd: 8.27 (would have been 3rd)
1992: 1st: 8.67; 2nd: 8.64; 3rd: 8.34 (would have been 4th)
1996: 1st: 8.50; 2nd: 8.29; 3rd: 8.24 (would have been 2nd)
2000: 1st: 8.55; 2nd: 8.49; 3rd: 8.31(would have been 3rd on countback)
2004: 1st: 8.59; 2nd: 8.47; 3rd: 8.32 (4th was 8.31)
2008: 1st: 8.34; 2nd: 8.24; 3rd: 8.20 (would have been 2nd)
Looking at that, I think he would have been given more praise had he come 2nd or 3rd as that is what 8.31m would usually be worth. The couple of times that distance wasn’t enough for a medal it was literally by 1-3 cm. Obviously it would have been close to winning the previous Olympics too. 8.31 was by no means a bad jump at all, and when you consider that 4 of those winning jumps were by Carl Lewis and Mike Powell appears a couple of times too then that gives a bit more perspective. You can go down the line of saying that Greg was lucky he was not competing with them but then you can say that for nearly everyone with a couple of exceptions! What makes the sport so great is that every generation is different and the competition is just as important, if not more important than individual times, distances, heights, etc.
After a difficult 2013, Greg then went on to win the European Championships in 2014 (jumping 8.29m), the Commonwealth Games in 2014 (jumping 8.20m) and this year won the World Championships in Beijing (8.41m). The last winning distance is very much on a par with most World Championship winning distances.
2011: 8.45m; 2003: 8.32m; 2001: 8.40m; 1997: 8.42m
All but one of the other winning jumps are by the greatest of all time including Carl Lewis, Mike Powell, Ivan Pedroso, Dwight Philips and Irving Saladino. Indeed Rutherford is only the 7th man to win World Long Jump Gold with the other being Menkov of Russia. He has been one of the best long jumpers for the last 4 seasons now and definitely the most successful, so he has definitely earned the praise that came his way after Beijing. He even added the Diamond League series this year to prove beyond any doubt his talent and ability to compete with the best when it matters most.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
I think once Greg had won in Beijing and he had joined the exclusive grand slam club (an admittedly mainly British achievement) of winning all the major outdoor titles along with Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell, Jonathan Edwards and Daley Thompson, he finally got the recognition he deserved. You can’t be lucky and win 4 out of 5 major championships in succession, even the most stubborn would probably admit that. To be in the same group of those names perhaps makes people realise that the ginger kid who won in London is actually a pretty good long jumper. I think it also helps that Mo and Jess aren’t in that group (although pregnancy and illness have stopped them from doing so) as the focus is on him individually.
In interviews after Beijing, he said that he hopes that he had won well enough for those who doubted/criticised him. In this modern social media world we currently live him there will always be idiots who say harsh and unfair stuff but for true fans of the sport he has nothing to prove to anyone but himself. He has his place in history even if he retired tomorrow and is truly one of Britain’s greatest athletes. I don’t think he is done quite yet though.
If you want to know when I publish any posts or any opinions on athletics then you can follow me on twitter @Athlappetizer which you can follow at the bottom of this page. If you have any opinions on what I write or any feedback (positive or negative) then you can do so down the page. I write these blogs because I enjoy writing them but I would love if it could lead to interesting conversation and interactions too. Many thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope you enjoyed it!
Until next time!