Peerless Greg Rutherford radiated a wide-eyed exuberance after joining the pantheon of British athletes to hold all four major titles simultaneously by securing long jump gold at the World Championships in Beijing yesterday.
Rutherford joined an illustrious list – decathlete Daley Thompson, sprinter Linford Christie, hurdler Sally Gunnell and triple jumper Jonathan Edwards – to wear the Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth crowns at the same time.
The 28-year-old produced a season’s best 8.41m to become the first Briton to win a long jump medal at a World Championships, demolishing the challenge of Australian Fabrice Lapierre, who posted 8.24m, and the 8.18m of China’s Jianan Wang.
“When you name some of the names who have done it, they are some of the greatest athletes in British history,” said Rutherford, who took Great Britain’s medal tally at the competition to three – all gold.
“I’m not sure I am quite up to their level to be honest but it’s great to walk away with my fourth title.”
Entering the final on the back of a scathing attack on UK Athletics, the heroics of British record holder Rutherford also provided the perfect antidote to critics who claimed he was lucky to win Olympic gold on Super Saturday at London 2012 with a jump of 8.31m.
“The Olympics was my first major win and I think people thought it was a bit of a fluke, but I’ve managed to win a couple of smaller ones and now another massive one, and it’s an incredible feeling,” he added.
“I’m exceptionally lucky, and I truly do have an incredibly special family. My dad even went and built me a long jump run in my back garden this year.
“Nobody knew me before the Olympics and I hope now everybody realises I work hard and I want this as much as anybody in the world.”
Britain’s fastest man Christie and fellow 1992 Olympic champion Gunnell both congratulated Rutherford by tweeting: “Welcome to the club”.
Despite incurring a first-round foul, Rutherford surged into the lead in the second with a jump of 8.29m, which would never be bettered. His leap of 8.41m in the fourth was the second-best of his entire career, although Rutherford himself ranked it higher.
“What an incredible night. It’s been unreal,”he said. “This was my best ever performance. The stresses this year, I can’t even express to you.
“I think 8.41m in a stadium record. It wasn’t as long as the last jump which won the World Championships but I couldn’t care less to be honest.”
American Jeff Henderson, world leader this year and favourite for gold, could only manage 7.95m with his sole legal jump, while there was little joy for fellow countryman Mike Hartfield, who crashed out after a third successive foul.
Russia’s defending champion Aleksandr Menkov fared little better and only managed 8.02m for a sixth-place finish.