Rutherford’s place in history is ensured as he retires in Newcastle

Greg Rutherford
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Great Rutherford competed for the final time at the Great North City Games in Newcastle on Saturday

The distance of his final jump did not matter. It also did not matter that he did not win, because Greg Rutherford has done more winning than most.

Olympic champion, world champion, Commonwealth Games champion and two-time European champion, Rutherford’s place in the history of athletics will remain forever.

On Saturday, he brought his historic long jump career to an end when he retired at the age of 31; the toils and the toll of the event is now too much for his body. 

It will not be the end of him in sport, though, because he is now eyeing a new career as a track cyclist, with the power from his body a crucial element in that fresh pursuit. 

That is for the near-future. For now, a reflection on a 31-year-old who found himself one part of a triumvirate of gold medallists that few nations have ever, or will ever, match.

In the space of 46 minutes on Saturday 4  August, Great Britain won three gold medals at their home Olympic Games in London six years ago. Two of them were expected: Jessica Ennis-Hill in the heptathlon and Mo Farah in the 10,000m.

But two became three when, with a leap of 8.31m, Milton Keynes-born Rutherford put himself on the map with a moment so glorious that it propelled him to a career where he has now joined the greats of British athletics.

From London glory came Commonwealth Games gold in Glasgow in 2014, a few weeks before European gold in Zurich and then a year later world glory in Beijing. 

With that latter success, he became one of only five British athletes to win all four major outdoor titles: Daley Thompson (decathlon), Linford Christie (100m), Sally Gunnell (400m hurdles and Jonathan Edwards (triple jump) are the others. 

When he achieved this success, Gunnell, the 1992 Olympic 400m hurdles champion among her many triumphs, sent him a tweet to welcome him to the club. And it is not just a year’s membership either. It is a lifetime pass.

Rutherford went on to retain his European crown in Amsterdam in 2016 – a decade after winning his first senior medal in Gothenburg at the age of 19 – before taking bronze at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro before injuries played a part in his last two seasons in the sport. 

After missing out on the chance to defend his world title in London in 2017, Rutherford was hoping for a championship farewell last month in Berlin as he sought a third successive European crown but he was forced to miss out. 

This meant a finale last Saturday (8) at the Great CityGames in Newcastle, a street athletics event which brought him even closer to the fans that he spends so much time signing autographs for and posing for selfies.

His last jump was 7.38m, and as he stood up after landing, he wiped both his eyes. It was to dry the tears, not clear the sand. He raised both arms, he smiled, he did not want to leave. 

“The final round was remarkably emotional,” said Rutherford. “I have been ignoring the fact this was going to be the last one all day and then it hit me. It was an incredible send off, one of the most memorable for me.

"Getting out of bed in the mornings nowadays is quite difficult and I need to let it recover properly and move on to something new. It is time to let the youngsters takeover and push it on to a new level." 

His career ends with a personal best of 8.51m from Chula Vista in 2014, a British record which will take some beating. But there again he is used to achievement landmarks. 

It was on 22 July 2005, in Kaunas, Lithuania, that an 18-year-old Rutherford leaped 8.14m to win gold at the European U20 Championships, a mark which remains the British U20 record some 13 years later. 

History then, with his first major title, and history ever since. Not many can say that.