Outside of Great Britain, it’s fair to say few knew who long-jumper Greg Rutherford was until one amazing night they now call Super Saturday changed his life forever. The redhead from Milton Keynes soared through the London sky to become an Olympic champion.
Life has changed a bit for you in the past year hasn’t it?
It’s a little bit different to say the least. I’ve had some fantastic opportunities. Even just general day to day things like going to the shops you have to sort of put extra time aside for it because basically you know you’re going to be chatting to a few people or people want to stop for a photograph. So it’s changed a hell of a lot that way.
That must have its moments though?
Most of the time it’s great fun. And on top of that there’s the new friends you make and the people you meet that’s been incredible. I mean there was one night I was at this after-party in London and there was Sacha Baron Cohen and the guy from Homeland Damien Lewis playing table tennis. Anyway they stopped and congratulated me and another Olympian who was standing there. It was just an absolutely fascinating scenario. I find it amazing when people who you consider are massive superstars are interested in the Olympics as well.
You didn’t get mixed up for Damien Lewis did you?
Haha. A few people have mentioned the resemblance a few times actually. I think there was a large proportion of the ginger people who had done well in their life in the one room that night to be honest because there aren’t that many of us.
Fair enough Agent Brody! How many times have you relived that winning jump?
Yeah it’s something that if there’s any bad times it’s a great catalyst for me to smile again and just remember what was a great time. It really was a fantastic time in my life and one that I’ll never forget and will use to pick me up when things are down.
How many centimetres do you think the British crowd got you that night?
I tell you what I think they were a very large part of it. It really was something else that night. Every time they screamed and got behind you it literally felt like they were lifting you off the floor. For me it was massive. I was having such a fantastic time and the crowd really was the edge for me I think. The only other time I’ve really experienced a crowd like that where they were that intense and that behind their own was at the MCG for Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006. I was out there when John Steffensen was running his 400m and I’ll never forget when they started screaming it felt like it was hitting you in the chest it was that hard and that loud. Then all of a sudden I had it again in London. It was out of this world.
Is it possible to quantify how far a crowd can take you?
It’s a tough one because different people respond to it differently. Some people really thrive with a big crowd and others don’t. With my personality and the way I do things I find it fantastic and I do enjoy it. Every time they started shouting and screaming it filled me pride and it actually helped me relax. And that in itself is counts for a bit.
It was a huge night for British athletics. With Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah winning gold as well it was probably the biggest night in its history.
Yeah and it changed everything. Funnily enough before I went out there that night I said it doesn’t matter what happens, I could break the world record and no one will realise when you’ve got Jess and Mo out there. And to be fair it’s not too far off the mark! But it truly was an incredible night. The most fascinating thing about it was people have come up to me and said ‘oh I remember where I was when Super Saturday took place.’ And that’s something that I find really hard to put myself into.
Even from afar you could tell what it meant to Great Britain.
Yeah well I’ve heard people say it was better than when we won the football world in 1966. That’s one of the greatest sporting moments we’ve ever had. Now people say they remember where they were on August 4, 2012. Without the other two winning as well it wouldn’t have been as special not just for me but for the entire nation. I think that’s why it’s changed my life. A lot of people won gold medals for Britain at the London Olympics but not many have stayed in the pubic spotlight. I think the fact that mine happened on Super Saturday has helped me stay at the forefront.
What meant more to you, winning the gold or relegating an Australian (Mitchell Watt) to a silver medal?
Haha. Definitely the gold. I think that’s what every athlete aspires to. It’s irrelevant who’s in the competition. The interesting thing in a field event is it doesn’t really matter who else is out there because they’re not there competing at the exact same time. Every time I step out onto the runway it’s just me and the sandpit. And it’s the same for every other competitor. So you’re only really competing against yourself. You’ve not got anyone ahead of you that you need to chase down or tactically beat that way. Obviously if someone does something impressive that can change your mood or approach a little bit but ultimately you’ve just got to prepare to do what you can do.
Interestingly enough you and Mitchell are good mates. How’s that dynamic changed since London?
Yeah we are. We’re still good mates and hang out together quite a lot. There’s a nice friendly atmosphere among a lot of the jumpers actually.
I’ve noticed that. I mean at the Olympics we even saw Steve Hooker orchestrating some collusion among the pole vaulters during qualifying and they were laughing it up big time. I guess it just seems odd to us watching at home.
I think things have changed a fair bit since the mid to late 90’s when you had the likes of Maurice Green sort of stalking up and down the track and glaring around with his tongue out and people looking around as though they were unapproachable and you couldn’t talk to each other. In field events we’re out on the track sometimes for a couple of hours and if you try and put yourself in that stressful zone where you can’t be friendly and you don’t want to talk to them it can be counter-productive. You’re not working in a way that can keep you mentally focused. So we’re usually out there having a laugh and getting on pretty well with each other.
It was the smallest winning long jump since 1972. Were conditions not conducive to putting up big numbers that night?
I think all of us who went out there were thinking we’re going to have to jump well over eight and a half metres to win this thing. And for me, even though I was winning from the second round and then the fourth round, I thought well any moment now somebody’s going to jump much further and I’m going to have to respond. But for whatever reason it just didn’t happen. A lot of people did have still winds or head winds and in ideal conditions it would have been a bit warmer but just for whatever reason people weren’t jumping absolutely crazy distances. But in major championships its just about going out there and trying to win a medal. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if I’d jumped six metres 90. For me it was about going out there and trying to win that gold medal.
You got a couple of gold post boxes in your honour as well didn’t you?
Yeah that was crazy and for some reason I got two of them. No one else got that. They decided to pick them in a random part of Milton Keynes and there were two directly next to each other so they decided to paint them both.
What’s it like having your head on a stamp?
Ah very different as well. When you’ve spent your entire life seeing just the Queen on a stamp then all of a sudden I’m on one that was surreal. It was fantastic though and a great for us to keep a memorial of the moment forever.
You met her didn’t you?
Yeah when I got my MBE. And funnily enough one of the things she said to me was what an impact the Olympics have had on British track and field. And for someone like that to say it proves things have improved and its become a lot more popular again. For the last few years, probably since the Linford Christie and Colin Jackson era it’s been a bit dull and the UK hasn’t had as many major athletes to talk about. But it’s definitely boomed since London and it’s great to see people like Jessica Ennis doing well. I mean you see her face everywhere and she’s a fantastic role model. Athletics has changed a lot since the London Olympics and long may it continue.
Surely you cop some grief around track being an MBE?
Well I think all of us who won gold medals in London got some sort of recognition in that regard. But it’s funny when you get especially the Americans saying ‘oh do you know the Queen?’ And I go ‘well actually I’ve met her.’ But most of the guys are quite good with their banter about it. They’re quite funny.
Do you remember your conversation with the Queen?
Well I was so nervous meeting her that when it did happen I felt like it went forever. My parents told me later it wasn’t long. But we had a decent conversation. Most interesting thing was there were 75 or 76 of us there that day and she’d have somebody in her ear saying who you are. And I head the guy say ‘Greg Rutherford. Track and Field. Olympic gold medallist in the long jump’ and she then sparked up her own conversation and had her own interesting things to say. So she’s got great knowledge of everything in general it seems. It was very enjoyable.
As an MBE you have to say that mate!
Yeah I have to now. I’m obligated to say nice things for life and maybe one day I’ll get upgraded. Haha. Now that would be nice.
You were a very good footballer. How close did you come to choosing that path over athletics?
I was more interested in track and enjoyed it a lot more. I was good at football and picked it up very quickly but with track I actually enjoyed being there and that was the big difference. Professional clubs picked me up and trialled me but it was something that I was never really in love with whereas I found track in the summer and it was fantastic. A big part of it to be honest when I was that age, sort of 14, 15, there were girls at the track as well and it’s always good to be there when you’ve got both lads and girls charging about. It changes the dynamic so I think that enticed me a bit more as well.
You started out as a sprinter didn’t you?
Yeah and I was ok and I’ve got a 10.2 PB now. But I was only really a county level runner. And I realised that at a young age. I sort of thought you know what I’m never going to win an Olympic gold in the 100m but I have a chance in the long jump. So all of a sudden I went from being a half decent sprinter to a nationally recognised long jumper and I loved that and I loved the individuality of the sport as well. So for me it just seemed like the natural path to take. Then of course 2012 comes around and it all happens.
That said, you have a pretty decent football pedigree.
Yeah my Grandad did play a bit of professional football for Arsenal but my great-Grandad had 11 caps for England, played for Newcastle. He played for Arsenal too. In fact he was the oldest player ever to play for Arsenal. So football was in my genes and in my blood but it just wasn’t something that came as naturally to me as it did to him. I still love the game though. I’m a huge Manchester United fan and I get up to Old Trafford as much as I can when I’m in the country. Ultimately I’ve got to be serious with myself. I don’t think I was ever good enough to make it as a professional football player. I think athletics was more what I was built for.
Surely Olympic gold trumps football though?
Haha. Well the England caps are pretty good but I think an Olympic gold is the best thing so far to come out of the Rutherford sporting bloodlines. I’ll try and claim it anyway for now.
So much was made globally about funding given to British athletes through the lottery system. Was the impact as significant as it was portrayed?
Well for me it kept me in the sport and allowed me to train full time. Interestingly now I’m not funded anymore so I don’t have that same support. But in the lead-up it was integral. It gives you the opportunity to train hard and not worry too much. Then you have the fantastic medical facilities. If you need surgery that’s all sorted. UK Athletics brought Dan Pfaff and my therapist Gerry Ramogida over from the US and those two together kept me in one piece and turned me into a better athlete. So that’s hugely important and that came down to the national governing body making some good decisions and funding.
Sounds like the Olympic honeymoon is well and truly over then. Going cold turkey on funding could have a pretty dire effect on future performance outcomes?
It’s not been to the extent where they’ve said now there’s nothing left for people. But things have been centralised. What they’ve tried to do is make one singular high level centre of excellence. But ultimately it doesn’t work for some people who have to get all over the place. It’s going to be interesting couple of years to see how this works. It could work really well. They might be able to bring the British team together in one place and get a lot of the guys training together. I’d imagine if things don’t go 100% well they’ll be quick to change it around again.
The legacy will be revealed in Rio I guess. You plan on being there?
Yeah and it’s about getting things ready again and building towards that time. Four more years. A lot can happen in that period. Who knows where I’ll be or what sort of condition my body will be in. Even though things were fantastic last year, you’re only just around the corner from an injury. So who knows but I’ll be aiming to go there and do well and continue on with a good sporting career I hope.