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"Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play…it is war minus the shooting."

George Orwell

Unexpected

Return to the book list for titles beginning with 'u'.

Greg Rutherford, London Simon and Schuster, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-4711-6252-7

I enjoyed Greg’s story, having been privileged to be in the stadium when all of his big events took place and having often spoke to him afterwards.

He starts the book with a clear statement: “I hate sports autobiographies. Most bore me to death. So before I started writing this, I had a clear condition in my mind: I had to be brutally honest. I didn’t want this to be a conventional, sugar-coated, bland tale of a developing sportsman”.

The book is certainly not PC and bland. The author gives us insights into his own struggles with drinking too much at certain times of his life and the “the hedonistic and promiscuous behaviour that is a familiar theme at the end of major championships”.

There is nothing bland about his assessment of former coaches and managers. Long jump legend, Carl Lewis is dismissed as “one of the world’s biggest arseholes”. That UK Athletics is “is more of a hindrance than a help” is explicitly stated with further criticisms of the governing today repeated 4 or 5 times.

Rutherford also expresses his frustration that he has never received the credit his achievements deserve with detractors saying that his victories were against poor opposition, lucky or flukes etc.

He describes Dan Pfaff as “the best coach in the world” and his decision to work with him as life-changing and his best ever decision. In contrast “too many British coaches are not only mediocre, but can be negative and spiteful people to boot”. Until he worked with Pfaff he feels that he never learned the essentials of long-jumping.

His account of winning gold in London 2012 is compelling. While some GB Olympians struggled with the pressure, he saw it as a once in a lifetime opportunity. At the same time he calls watching his opponents’ last jumps as “the most stressful experience of my life.” He adds: “People expect a great victory to produce unadulterated joy, but the feeling I had was very different - more like a profound sense of intense relief”.

His winning bronze - or losing gold - in Rio is described with the same honesty. Jumping 8.29 was “fantastic, but also gutting” as he realized that he had done the best he could but that on the day it was not good enough. The simple explanation is that his body let him down at the most crucial time. His assessment gives a poignant insight into the demands of elite sport: “I’d given up everything in order to retain my title, and I had failed”.

As Verite Sport is particularly interested in the relationship between faith and sport, we note that Rutherford grew up in a Jehovah’s Witness family. His assessment in later life was that he finds “most religion very frustrating: there seems too little emphasis on the ‘love thy neighbour’”. At the same time in the London Olympics he was “literally praying for some kind of biblical intervention to end the competition right there”.

A good read and some clears insight into the man and the athlete.



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