Marriage proposals, partying with film stars, catwalk offers… When Greg Rutherford won long jump Gold, he took a giant leap into the spotlight


Marriage proposals, partying with film stars, catwalk offers… When Greg Rutherford won long jump Gold, he took a giant leap into the spotlight

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UPDATED:

22:11 GMT, 28 September 2012


Greg Rutherford's life has changed dramatically since the Olympics

Greg Rutherford's life has changed dramatically since the Olympics

There was a brief moment a few years ago when Greg Rutherford began to look for a job in sales.

Beset by injury, depressed at being forced to live in London, exhausted by hospital visits to his dying grandfather and convinced he was never going to make the Olympic squad, he planned to give up years of athletics training to live a normal life.

Then one jump changed everything.

It came on the final day of qualifiers for the Beijing Olympics. He had to jump 8.20m to make the team ‘and I never thought I would get it as I had missed all my training and was mentally and physically exhausted’.

And then he got his 8.20m and he was
off to the Olympics. He didn’t win a medal, and it has been four long
years of training since – but he hasn’t looked back.

And
now he can’t stop looking at the Gold medal he is cradling in his
hands. It may be more than a month since that momentous Super Saturday
when Greg followed Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah in winning Gold – the
first in long jump for Britain for nearly 50 years – in the most amazing
45 minutes of British athletics ever seen, but he still can’t take it
in.

‘That night I won I
couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t get my heartbeat down and every time I
closed my eyes I was back in the stadium,’ he recalls. ‘It’s all been
totally surreal.’

Greg,
along with his fellow Olympians, is now a star. But perhaps because he
was the underdog – the one without the big sponsorship deals, the one
nobody was talking about – he’s still struggling with the idea that
we’ve taken him to our hearts.

‘I
knew I was in good shape but even on the athletics side no one thought I
was going to win,’ he recalls. ‘But I wanted to win so badly and every
time I went for a jump the stadium just roared. I went out there to do a
job and I did it but what I still can’t get my head around is how
everyone else was so emotionally attached to it. It’s amazing.’

Greg shakes his head as he tries to think what has been the most extraordinary thing to happen since. It might be the crowds who cheered at the fabulous Team GB parade in London, ‘there were people crying because they were so happy and then I would lock eyes with them and get a bit teary as well. And then I saw signs up from people asking me to marry them.’

It might be meeting his own sporting hero, Rugby World Cup winning Lewis Moody. ‘We actually swapped numbers as if that was the normal thing to do.’

Or the moment when a roomful of stars clapped him ‘We’d gone to a little party after the GQ awards,’ he says, omitting that he’d been invited by Bono.

‘I was with [Silver medal-winning gymnast] Louis Smith when Jimmy Carr told us to go downstairs. I opened a door and Sacha Baron Cohen was playing table tennis against Damian Lewis.

‘Then Damian stopped and said, “Hang on everyone, the Olympians have joined us”, and they gave us a round of applause. You always think the people you see on TV wouldn’t be normal and watch things like the Olympics, but it seems everybody does. It really did captivate the whole nation.’

Good-looking and charismatic, Greg, 25, has just signed up to be the face of a new Bupa campaign to get us walking more – the adverts show him trying out Monty Python-esque silly walks. It’s a subject he believes is important – he thinks it’s incredible people take the car for journeys they could walk in five minutes.

Tonight he’ll be doing a different sort of strut, on the catwalk at the Style Birmingham Live event. But he has just a few more weeks in the fame bubble before – he thinks – life will get back to normal. ‘I don’t want to get caught up in showbiz. First and foremost I am a long jumper.

All Greg can think of is how much further he wants to jump

All Greg can think of is how much further he wants to jump

All I can think of is how much further I want to jump. And then I want to win every other major title, and retain my title in Rio – only then will I go down as one of the greatest ever long jumpers. I might have picked up the best medal but the last thing I want to be is a one-hit wonder.’

Milton Keynes-born Greg comes from a sporty family. His great-grandfather, Jock, played football for England, and his grandfather, John, who died from cancer in 2007, was in the Arsenal squad.

He could have been a footballer too, and trialled with Aston Villa but preferred athletics, and chose the long jump when he realised that although he sometimes got beaten while sprinting, he didn’t when he jumped. ‘I don’t like to lose,’ he says.

On the track Greg could escape from the bullying he experienced at school for his red hair. He wonders whether being ginger gave him an edge in sport. ‘At school I’d get abuse all day long’ he says. ‘Being ginger made me more determined. You have to learn to fight your way out of situations. You develop a thick skin.’

He has needed that inner strength because his route to winning Gold has not been easy. Until recently almost every year was marked by injury.

All I can think of is how much further I
want to jump. And then I want to win every other major title, and retain
my title in Rio – only then will I go down as one of the greatest ever
long jumpers. I might have picked up the best medal but the last thing I
want to be is a one-hit wonder

And while many of the top flight athletes rake in thousands from sponsorship Greg had very little; Nike funded his kit and he got free nutritional supplements from Maximuscle.

For the rest he depended on Lottery funding and the goodwill of local millionaire Ian Bullerwell who got together with his Rotary Club friends to help fund Greg’s training. Going into his first Olympics was tough. ‘My grandfather had just died and I wanted to wait for his funeral, but was being told to go to Beijing for training. I still regret not going to his funeral.’

Unsurprisingly, those Olympics did not go well for him – he came tenth in the final. Afterwards he was rushed to hospital with tonsillitis and a kidney and lung infection. But later that year he broke the British long jump record and it’s been hard work ever since.

He’s up at 6.30am to drive from Milton Keynes to Lee Valley in London where he trains. When he gets home at 7pm he just about has energy to walk the dogs and watch TV before conking out.

‘My favourite show is The Great British Bake Off,’ he says. ‘When I have time I love to bake but I can only have a tiny piece – the size of a 2p piece – and that’s just to make sure it tastes OK. I take the rest to the track and give it to the coaches. My diet is carb-free most of the time – every extra pound I carry makes me heavier when I fly through the air.’

He admits it is hard on his girlfriend Liz Rose who works for fashion label Fossil.

‘To put up with me you have to be patient,’ he says. ‘I’m very driven and there are lots of things I can’t do. I’m not sure how much longer she’ll put up with me.’ When I tell him there are several thousand women who would happily swap places with her his face changes colour to match his hair. ‘Umm. I don’t know about that,’ he mumbles.

When it’s time for him to go, Greg does not hurry putting his medal back in its case. ‘I’m going to get a safe for it but at the moment I am not letting it out of my sight,’ he says looking at it wistfully one more time. ‘It’s just amazing.’

To see Greg in Bupa’s Get Walking Keep Walking campaign, log onto www.youtube.com/bupauk