A speed-based, animalistic training set-up helped Greg Rutherford rip to a UK long jump record

After sharing the UK long jump record with Chris Tomlinson for the past couple of years, Greg Rutherford has now taken the mark to a new level in San Diego. With a giant leap of 8.51m the Olympic champion has proven a point to his doubters, sent out a message to his Commonwealth Games rivals and shown that training with sprinters and ‘direwolves’ works.

Earlier this year I did a long interview with the Olympic champion and it was clear that despite his stuttering start to the year he had discovered a winning formula in training. After spending the Christmas period struggling with a chest infection and celebrating New Year’s Eve with a curry to clear his sinuses, he dropped out of the indoor international match in Glasgow in January with a minor injury before finishing third in the British Athletics Grand Prix in Birmingham the following month.

It wasn’t a great start to 2014 and away from the track there was talk of him one day leaving athletics to try to win a medal in the Winter Olympics, while further negativity was generated when BBC pundits wound him up by questioning his lack of success since winning gold in London 2012.

Yet despite all this Rutherford sounded relentlessly upbeat and confident that he would take the British record to a new level. He also spoke passionately about striking gold in the Commonwealth Games this summer and no doubt his fiery inner belief was bolstered by the knowledge that his new training set-up behind the scenes was working just as well as the Dan Pfaff-led programme that took him to the top of the Olympic podium two years earlier.

When Pfaff left UK Athletics to move back to the United States, Rutherford found a new coach – Jonas Tawiah-Dodoo – and a training group that’s made up of some of Britain’s brightest sprint talents. They include David Bolarinwa, Chijinda Ujah, Deji Tobais, Sean Safo-Antwi and Ojie Edoburun and trying to match strides with these young speed merchants during the winter has given Rutherford – who at 27 is the ‘old man’ of the group – the necessary velocity on the runway to improve his British record.

Rutherford, who has run 10.26 for 100m, said earlier this year: “When I started training with them, I thought ‘blimey, I’m getting old’. They are young, hungry and very quick. If I can hold on to them and transfer that speed to the runway then my long jump will be looking good.”

On his new coach, he added: “Jonas learned a lot of his trade from Dan, so he has the same ethos, which is a massive bonus for me.”

Then there are his non-human training partners. Direwolves are the wolf-like animals seen in Game of Thrones and producers of the US fantasy TV series use Northern Inuit dogs to play the role. They are so fast they would leave Usain Bolt for dead – and Rutherford owns one.

The dog is called Gus and in addition he has two Labradors – Murphy and Dexter – and he often does sessions such as hill sprints in the woods near his Woburn Sands home with them at his side. “They sprint ahead, stop, turn around, run back, look at you and then they’re away again,” he says.

This unusual training set-up has helped him add 16 centimetres to his UK record and taken him over the 8.50m barrier for the first time. The Milton Keynes athlete always seemed slightly frustrated by the fact he’d barely improved much on Lynn Davies’ long-standing UK record of 8.23m, which was set back in the 1960s, but his San Diego mark has taken him to a higher plane and only been beaten by 18 men, led of course by Mike Powell’s 8.95m world record.

After a hamstring injury ruined his 2013 season, Rutherford will now be keen to build on this great early-season opener and win the Commonwealth title in Glasgow. Four years ago in Delhi he took silver behind Australian Fabrice Lapierre and he is keen to upgrade to gold in Glasgow. Certainly, he couldn’t have enjoyed a better start than breaking the British record before the summer even begins.

» Jason Henderson edits Athletics Weekly