By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Athletics needs to shake itself out of the Dark Ages and be much better at presenting what is a great product, according to world and Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford.
The injured Briton is unable to defend his title at the World Championships, which begin in London on Friday, but will have a different view on proceedings in his new role as an expert analyst for Eurosport.
Rutherford’s career high when he was one of the golden trio to triumph on Britain’s “Super Saturday” at the 2012 Olympics was fully appreciated by the sellout crowd and worldwide TV audience but he, like many field event participants, has also seen the other side of the coin when his event has been virtually lost in the often-chaotic spectacle of a full athletics program.
“Sometimes when you are down there competing it’s hard even for us to know what’s going on, knowing what our rivals are doing,” Rutherford told Reuters in a telephone interview on Thursday.
“There’s often so much going on that some events can get a little lost. I actually think in some ways the sport is in the Dark Ages in terms of presenting itself; we could be much better because there is so much great stuff to see.”
Rutherford said he had really enjoyed competing in the City Games held in Manchester city center in May and said other similar innovations could help meet the challenge of “remaining relevant” that IAAF head Sebastian Coe said this week was the sport’s number one challenge.
“We’ve been blessed to have had Usain Bolt but I think we could have done more to use his appeal to spread the news about the other great performers,” he said.
Rutherford, who also has Commonwealth and European titles to his name and an Olympic bronze from Rio last year, said he was immensely frustrated to have missed out on defending his title but had to take the long-term view after failing to overcome an ankle injury sustained in June and further complications from a sportsman’s hernia
“In this sport you have to be 100 percent fit, especially in my event,” he said. You can’t be 99 and a half percent, not with the quality of opposition around, that’s not going to be good enough.
“I’m devastated that I won’t be able to compete in that stadium which is such a special place for me, the place that changed my life. But there was no choice in the end so I’ll just have to focus on recovery and look to next year and trying to become the first to win three European titles in a row.”
In his absence Rutherford said there could well be a South African 1-2 in London with Luvo Manyonga, the world leader and stand-out performer this season, and Ruswahl Samaai the men to beat.
However, with four Americans in the field, including Olympic champion Jeffrey Henderson, he said their competitive juices mean it would not be a surprise if one of them pulled out a big one on the day.
“I’m really looking forward to watching the event through different eyes and hopefully bringing some insight to Eurosport viewers,” said the 30-year-old.
“It’s a role I’m really excited about. I’ve always enjoyed that media interaction and it’s something I want to learn about and maybe one day I would love to make that transition. But I’d like to think I’ve got a few more big competitions in me yet.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)