World long jump champion bowled over by the thousands who turned out to support the Arcadis Great CityGames

Greg Rutherford paid glowing tribute to the people of Manchester who turned out in their thousands to support the Arcadis Great CityGames on Friday evening.

The world, European and Commonwealth champion, who won his event in a packed Albert Square, was taken aback at the public response to the street athletics meeting which was staged at the end of a week which had begun in tragedy.

Just a few days previously, the setting for the men’s long jump and women’s pole vault competitions had been at the heart of the public outpouring of grief for those who lost their lives in the terrorist attack, with flowers covering much of the square.

A combined total of 20,000 people turned out to watch proceedings at both the pop-up athletics arena and the sprint races which took place along Deansgate.

“I don’t think any of us knew what to expect,” said the 2012 Olympic gold medallist, who won with a leap of 8.18m to finish comfortably ahead of Uruguay’s Emiliano Lasa (7.96m). “I can’t even imagine how difficult this week has been for them. For anyone affected by it, it must be the most difficult time of their lives but you saw, en masse, the support that Manchester always gives sport and that’s really, really special.

“I decided this time I’d interact even more with the crowd. I wanted to involve them as much as possible and really, really get them into this event. They loved it, they had a great time. I saw a lot of smiling faces and did a lot of high fives.

“A few days ago it was the place where all the flowers had been set, which is incredibly special, and then for us to be able to go and jump there in what is a very iconic place to compete anyway…it was genuinely wonderful to be involved in that.

“The people that came out in their droves to support us, I take my hat off to them because I think it would have been very easy for a lot of them to say they weren’t going to come but they did – more than I’ve ever seen – and got behind us like nothing else. It was fantastic.”

» You can read a report on Friday evening’s athletics action here, while the June 1 edition of AW magazine will include much more in-depth coverage