Our Susie Verrill had to watch her other half Greg Rutherford’s podium disappointment on a big screen in her back garden. There are a few things she wanted to set straight as she prepares to welcome him home.
“I never thought in my career I’d have been disappointed with a bronze medal but I’m gutted.” That was the statement which got my eyes swimming.
A month ago I packed my other half off to America. He was headed to Scottsdale for his final training camp prior to flying to Rio for the Olympics, and it would be another month before we’d see each other.
He’s still over in Brazil as I write this; we FaceTime as much as we can around his media commitments, physio and the terrible WiFi connection, struggling under the swarm of sportsmen and women desperate to remain in contact with their nearest and dearest.
I try to get our son Milo to express how much he’s missing his dad while he opts to wave really interesting sticks he’s found in the garden towards the screen, or picks his nose as his gaze momentarily flickers from In The Night Garden.
Greg qualified for the men’s long jump final on Friday but it didn’t go quite as he’d wanted. The aim was to nail it in one jump and keep his body from going through too much prior to the following evening. But he fouled the first two; stepping on to the Plasticine thanks to issues with his run-up, and it was more than nail-biting. I practically gnawed down to my elbow.
Once it was over, I and the friend I was watching it with were toying with the idea of cooking a roast (it was 3am by this point) because we’d worked up such an appetite with all the nervous energy.
What the majority of us see as running and jumping is actually a series of very specific fundamentals. Long jumpers have a precise number of strides they take, particular movements in the air; it’s not just a case of legging it down a runway and lobbing yourself through sand.
Like most sporting disciplines at a professional level, it’s very, very technical. But he got through, so that was that.
While we’re on the topic of what ordinary, everyday people think of long jump and probably athletics as whole, I’ll just cover a common misconception.
Greg was often asked if he was training for the Olympics, a year since the last one happened. What many people often presume is the ONLY athletics meet, is actually just the grandest one of many.
There’s the Commonwealth Games, the European Champs, the World Champs, the Diamond League, street meets. You might not know these things are even happening, but believe me, athletes are rarely at home.
So no, Greg’s not training for the Olympics three years before it’s due to happen. He’s training for the event, which is probably only a couple of weeks away.
“Long jumpers have a precise number of strides they take; it’s not just a case of legging it down a runway and lobbing yourself through sand.”
Thanks to Greg qualifying in the third round, Saturday could go ahead as planned. I’d paid for a company to come set up a big screen in the garden rather than travel to Rio (which I covered in another Standard Issue post) and my friends helped me decorate the garden with Union Jacks and naff Rio carnival bunting before the rest of the guests arrived.
One of our good friends, Andy, fired up the BBQ and we ate burgers while watching the cycling. As the sun started to set and it gradually fell darker, we plonked ourselves on deck chairs under blankets and waited for the 12.50am start time. We were all anxious but excited.
Greg was confident going in; he held all four major titles, holds the British record and has a great ability to perform while under enormous pressure. He almost relishes a huge audience and baying crowd, it gets the adrenaline going and he’s not someone to enter the arena and suddenly be rendered useless. It’s his thing.
With all this in mind, he still knew his strongest competition came from the US team, and he was prepared for a battle. I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re as consistent (unlike Greg who’ll tend to leap over 8m in each round) but they have the ability to pull something big out of the bag. The guy who ended up winning gold for instance, Jeff Henderson, tends to be someone who’ll jump 7.90m one minute and then 8.30m the next. For that reason, he was a worry.
For anyone who didn’t watch, the clash was fierce and Greg will have really liked that; he said from the outset that if he did win, he didn’t want to do so easily.
While his achievement in London 2012 was incredible for him, it was often tainted with comments about the short distance and ‘easy’ competition. I know it was a real bugbear. People who compete for their country do so because they’re the best and to repeatedly hear comments over Twitter from Dave in Wigan who thinks he could do better is laughable.
We have a long jump pit in our garden; when we ran our own competition over the weekend for fun, the longest distance was 3.70m. 8.31m is neither ‘short’ nor ‘easy’.
I could tell throughout Saturday night that Greg still wasn’t feeling the pressure from the other guys; he doesn’t focus on what’s going on around him. He knows he can jump far and that’s where his attention lies. What can I do to better myself, how can I go in to the lead?
And that’s what sets him apart from other athletes. You often hear about coaches and sportsman trying to work out what their competitors are up to, people are told not to give too much away in the sense of training videos and diet in case of prying eyes. Greg’s focus is himself and what’s he doing wrong. This will have been the case as the competition unfolded.
Greg took his fourth jump and it was disallowed, falsely so. It would have taken him into the lead and rattled some cages, but sadly the red flag went up.
“While his achievement in London 2012 was incredible for him, it was often tainted with comments about the short distance and ‘easy’ competition.”
Once the competition had finished he was told it had been counted. Obviously this sticks in your throat a bit but it’s one of those things; errors are made all the time.
While his final leap looked large, it wasn’t enough to take the lead and he sat in third place.
The very last attempt came from Jarrion Lawson, another fantastic competitor from the US and at only 22, a promising sportsman. Our garden erupted when we saw what he’d managed; it looked as though he’d won gold and it slowly dawned on us Greg had been pushed off the podium.
That was, of course, until it was announced Lawson’s hand had scraped the sand on landing way back down the pit, thus it hadn’t even registered over 8m. Bronze was Greg’s and Henderson had the top spot.
My other half is someone who puts all his effort in to everything, be it his job, motivational speeches or mowing the lawn. He’s someone who can be asked to do something he really isn’t up for and still throw himself in to it. It’s a trait I hugely admire.
His disappointment with the result was obvious and heartbreaking to watch, I’ll readily admit that it made me cry to sit through his interview.
What a lot of people probably don’t understand is that it’s so hard to retain titles. You have a massive heap of pressure on your shoulders and almost an assumption from millions that you’re about to win something you’ve been pushing and pushing for, for years.
Our whole lifestyle as a family is geared towards my other half’s job and making sure he’s better than everyone else in the world on one particular night. Add to that the pressure these guys put on themselves and it must be gut-wrenching.
“To all the people congratulating athletes on doing their best, you’re an antidote to the huge wounds they’re nursing. To anyone bemoaning someone’s effort, please think again.”
I’ve tried to steer clear from reading the newspaper articles and readers’ comments (Daily Mail, I’m looking at you) because to see idiots suggesting Greg’s ‘luck’ ran out makes me want to get punchy. Bronze is a fantastic achievement and only he is allowed to feel downcast.
No it didn’t go as he’d have wanted, but to declare he didn’t put everything in to it is so shameful, it makes me ache with annoyance. Four months ago while training in America, Greg had appendicitis. A month ago he was being told he might have lost his hearing after an injury hitting the pit.
Athletes don’t trot off to the track every day without a care in the world; there are relentless injuries, scans, physio, ice-baths, vigorous training. He’s not just been sailing through – he’s been fighting.
I know Greg’s main disappointment comes from the fact he’s away so much; he feels gold would justify all the jetting off, all the weeks across the other side of the world, all the FaceTime-ing.
It won’t bother him that some people still feel he’s a one-hit wonder or a fluke, despite a catalogue of titles; he knows he’s proved himself. It’ll be the fact he can’t condone leaving our son for long lengths of time without earning that top prize: another gold in the greatest games on earth.
Greg’s due home this week and I can’t wait to see him and nor can Milo. We’re intending on taking our first family holiday and he might let himself eat some carbs and drink some whiskey; I’m just thankful we don’t have to limit ourselves to Nandos. AGAIN.
So, as a way of closing; to all the people congratulating athletes on doing their best, you’re an antidote to the huge wounds they’re nursing. To anyone bemoaning someone’s effort, please think again.
Otherwise I might start making a note of your names, place of work and rock up at your end of year appraisal with the rest of the world to pick holes in everything you’ve been privately trying your best at.
To Greg, my other half, I love you and I couldn’t be happier with all you’ve achieved. Now hurry home, we’ve missed you.
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My name’s Susie, I used to work for sport/fashion magazines in London while feeling cosmopolitan. Now I’m a stay-at-home mum in Milton Keynes who writes during nap time and attempts not to drive to garden centres every day in search of company other than that of a one-year-old.