LONDON (Reuters) - Greg Rutherford joined the British gold rush at the London Games with relish on Saturday when he clinched the long jump title with a leap of 8.31 metres, the shortest to win an Olympics in 40 years.
The self-styled “Ginger Wizard” led the competition from his second jump of 8.21 and, with the crowd roaring him on, improved it by 10cm with his fourth, which proved beyond the rest of the field and allowed him to foul his last two attempts.
The 25-year-old had already watched as compatriot Jessica Ennis danced past the long jump pit in front of the frenzied crowd on her lap of honour after winning the heptathlon.
Rutherford was not going to be outdone.
Covering himself in the Union Flag, he walked around the perimeter of the arena shaking hands with a fair few of the 80,000 spectators before leaping into the stands to embrace his parents.
Making his way back to the long jump area, he gave the take-off board a pat and grabbed a handful of sand from the pit before standing trackside and watching as Mo Farah won Britain’s third gold of the night in the men’s 10,000m.
“It’s the most incredible feeling in the world,” Rutherford told reporters. “I thought I was going to jump further but I’m Olympic champion, so who cares?
“What a night for British athletics, three gold medals out of a possible three. I got to see my folks in the crowd.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in properly. I knew I wanted to be an athlete and I knew I wanted to be Olympic champion. I might wake up in a minute.”
The only other Briton to win the men’s long jump Olympic title was Lynn Davies in Tokyo in 1964 and the last time the gold medal was won with a jump shorter than Rutherford’s was when Randy Williams leaped 8.24m to win in Munich in 1972.
The blustery wind that swirled inside the Olympic Stadium had something to do with the quality of the competition but it was also a reflection of a season where Rutherford’s 8.35m was the joint best.
Australia’s Mitchell Watt, the form jumper of 2011, grabbed a silver to go with the one he won at the world championships last year with a jump of 8.16m on his final attempt.
It is a measure of how far the 23-year-old Queenslander has come since taking up the sport again just four years ago that he will be disappointed not have got anywhere near his personal best of 8.54m.
“My best jump was when Jessica Ennis was going past, so I just pretended I was British for about 30 seconds,” he laughed.
American Will Claye fouled on his final attempt to exceed Rutherford’s mark and had to be satisfied with bronze courtesy of his fourth jump of 8.12m.
Claye said he had never seen a crowd like that which packed the Olympic Stadium on Saturday night.
“They were awesome,” he said. “They supported the event and clapped loud for all of us. It’s made it comfortable for all of us.”
Although the United States will now go through two Olympics without the long jump title for the first time, Claye is the triple jump indoor world champion and will also compete in that event.
“I know what to do. I know the track,” he said. “People ask me why do I do both - because I can do both. I think I can win gold.”
Defending champion Irving Saladino, Panama’s first Olympic gold medallist, failed to qualify for the final, while four-times world champion and 2004 Olympic champion Dwight Phillips missed the Games because of an Achilles injury.
Editing by Ed Osmond