Greg Rutherford, Olympic long jump champ on Super Saturday, to retire
Greg Rutherford, who earned long jump gold as part of Great Britain’s “Super Saturday” at the London Olympics but has struggled with injuries in his early 30s, will retire after this season.
“At times I am in so much pain I can’t even sit on the floor and play with my two kids,” Rutherford said, according to the Guardian, noting he has had five ankle surgeries, plus procedures on his foot, groin and stomach. “I still feel I am fast. I still feel as if I am super strong. But whenever I try to sprint or jump I have to take three days off because I am limping so much. In the end it wears you down.
“I keep asking myself, what’s more important to me – trying to be a mediocre athlete holding on to past glories or moving on?”
Rutherford, a 31-year-old known for his ginger-red hair and clutch performances at major championships, said he will compete at the European Championships in August, then conclude his career at a Diamond League meet in Birmingham, Great Britain.
“I’ve achieved so much but retirement comes early to those of us for whom sport is a livelihood,” was posted on Rutherford’s Instagram. “It only feels like yesterday I was winning my first major medal but now 12 years on, I sit here as the greatest long jumper Great Britain has ever had, one of the most successful in European history and someone ready to hang the spikes up for good.”
On Aug. 4, 2012, Rutherford earned long jump gold less than 10 minutes after countrywoman Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon and less than an hour before Mo Farah prevailed in the 10,000m. Ennis retired after taking silver at the Rio Games. Farah switched to marathons after last season.
Rutherford became the second British man to earn an Olympic long jump title after Lynn Davies in 1964.
He entered the Games as a medal favorite with the joint-farthest jump in the world that season. His winning jump in London, 8.31 meters (27 feet, 3 1/4 inches), was the shortest Olympic gold-medal distance since 1972.
Carl Lewis, a four-time Olympic long jump champion, criticized Rutherford’s generation of long jumpers (Rutherford was coached by Dan Pfaff, who worked with Lewis, and improved significantly in 2012 after changing his takeoff technique to mirror the U.S. legend.)
“[World-record holder] Mike [Powell] and me were jumping 28 feet regularly,” Lewis said in March 2016. “But this generation? Rutherford? I’m sorry, but it’s pathetic to me. He’s won everything. Are you kidding me? He’s doing his best. He’s jumping great. But he shouldn’t be winning with that.”
Rutherford went on to win his next three major championships -- the 2014 Commonwealth Games, 2014 Europeans and 2015 Worlds -- and then took bronze in Rio (behind U.S. gold medalist Jeff Henderson).
“I’m the Olympic, World, Commonwealth and European champion now,” Rutherford said at the 2015 Worlds. “I’m hoping that’s enough for people to accept I am a half-decent British athlete.”
In 2016, Rutherford said he was risking the hearing in his left ear for the rest of his life by continuing to jump. He developed cochlear hydrops, a rare ear disorder that left him partially deaf, after sustaining whiplash in competition.
“If the room falls silent all I hear is loud white noise, so it’s been a struggle to sleep,” Rutherford said then.
He missed the 2017 Worlds at the London Olympic Stadium with ankle ligament damage and a sports hernia. He has competed in four outdoor meets since Rio, none of them at the top international level.
Rutherford’s personal-best jump of 8.51 meters ranks him joint 23rd all time and sixth among European jumpers.
NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.
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