Preparing for a return to action after injury, the long jump star targets indoor success before he aims for a European hat-trick
Greg Rutherford’s immediate concern may lie with attempting to qualify for the World Indoor Championships as he makes his return from a lengthy injury lay-off, but he is aiming to finish this summer by creating history in an Olympic Stadium.
No male long jumper has ever won three consecutive European titles but that is just what the former Olympic, world and reigning Commonwealth champion is looking to achieve in Berlin come August.
The fact that he is even training at all is testament to his remarkable powers of recovery, the 31-year-old having undergone reconstructive surgery on his groin and a procedure on his ankle at the tail end of last year.
He has had to concede that the upheaval of travelling to Australia to defend his Commonwealth title would not be the wisest move for his body, but his progress in training has exceeded expectations to the point where his confidence is growing virtually by the session.
Rutherford is one of the latest additions to the stellar cast list which has been lined up for the Müller Indoor Grand Prix Glasgow on February 25, but first he will compete at the British trials a week earlier with the aim of securing a place for Birmingham 2018.
Having been unable to defend his world title at the London Stadium last year, his desire to get back into the heat of competition is palpable.
“The last time I jumped was June 4,” he says. “I picked up an injury then and that sort of ruined the rest of the season in the end.
“I feel pretty good. I’m running fast and I’m jumping well in training. Deciding to jump indoors is not something I often do but it just made sense. When you haven’t competed in such a long time and when you’re an old man like I am then you need to remember what it’s like to get out there and compete.
“I’m excited about the prospect of jumping indoors and it’s going to be a tester going into the summer because that could be a really important one for me.
“I want to become the first male long jumper to win three titles on the trot at the European Championships – it’s never been done in my event”
“I’ll go to the trials, I’ll go to Glasgow and then we’ll assess. If I jump far enough, I get picked and I still feel I’m up to the challenge then absolutely I’ll give it (the World Indoors) a go. If I’m not fit, then it’s not a problem – I’m just going to get myself ready for the summer.
“I want to have a good season in the Diamond League again and I want to become the first male long jumper to win three titles on the trot at the European Championships – it’s never been done in my event. It’s a big season ahead of me and I want to make sure I come out the back end of it fit and healthy.”
Rutherford has had to contend with injury for much of his career. As he admits: “Going into 2012 I was that athlete ‘he has a chance but he’s always injured’ so I’ve had to get over so many injuries over the years that you just get used to the process of doing it.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how my body responds to such a long lay-off. Mentally I’m super keen to be out there competing and mixing it up with the best in the world because I still see myself as one of the best in the world.”
Will there be an element of fear, though, about making that first competitive jump on his return?
“I think in every competition, when you’ve been out for a little while, there’s always a level of the unknown but I’m already jumping off 12 steps, which is the longest I would jump in training, and all went well,” says Rutherford, who has just travelled out to a warm weather training camp as he fine tunes his preparations. “I was jumping remarkably far actually, which is something I didn’t expect.
“I won’t be jumping off a full approach in training but I’ll have an idea and jumping off 12 steps is exciting for me. I now know, ahead of the trials and Glasgow, that that’s plenty of time to refine what I need and hopefully shake off the cobwebs over those two competitions.”
“Mentally I’m super keen to be out there competing and mixing it up with the best in the world because I still see myself as one of the best in the world”
After his gold medal-winning performance in 2014, Rutherford remembers only too well just how responsive an athletics crowd in Glasgow can be. He will face a stiff test there as the opposition will feature USA’s Jarrion Lawson and South African Ruswahl Samaai, both of whom won medals at last summer’s world championships with silver and bronze respectively.
“I have great memories of Glasgow,” adds the Milton Keynes athlete. “2014 was a fantastic season for me and to be able to win the Commonwealth Games in Britain was a wonderful experience. I jumped in Glasgow in 2009 as well and the crowd is always fantastic. That’s what really gets me going when it comes to competition – having good crowds around me.
“In Britain, we’re very lucky that the crowds understand track and field on a level that athletes really enjoy – they clap at the right times, they cheer at good performances and generally really get behind all the athletes. From my point of view, coming to Glasgow is going to be great and it’s going to be a difficult competition as well.”
» Tickets for the Müller Indoor Grand Prix Glasgow are available at britishathletics.org.uk
» Read more from an interview with Greg Rutherford in the February 1 edition of AW magazine