LONDON – The men’s long jump created a slice of Olympic Games history on Saturday – for all the wrong reasons.
Great Britain’s Greg Rutherford delighted the crowd at the Olympic Stadium by claiming victory, but his winning distance was the worst performance by a Games gold medalist in the event for 40 years.
Ever since Randy Williams of the United States took gold in Munich in 1972, every champion has jumped at least 8.34 meters, with a high point of Carl Lewis’ winning leap in Seoul in 1988 of 8.72.
Rutherford managed 8.31, recorded with his fourth jump, and deserves credit for holding his nerve amid a night where the host nation remarkably claimed three athletics golds – with Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon and 10,000-meter runner Mo Farah also tasting victory.
Behind him though, the field underperformed dramatically. Mitchell Watt of Australia came in second with 8.16m, a mark that would not have been good enough for a medal in any of the eight previous Games. Will Claye of the United States finished in third with 8.12.
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The downturn in performance the long jump competition has confused athletics experts, and earlier this week even four-time champion Carl Lewis insisted that the final would see an improvement.
“I was happy to put in a solid jump, and I didn’t think it would be good enough,” said a jubilant Rutherford. “I thought it would get overtaken but obviously I was delighted when it held.
“It wasn’t easy out there, but I found a pretty good rhythm early on. That is about as satisfying as it gets.”
Competitors blamed the windy conditions for interfering with their run-ups and affecting the distances completed.
“It was tough to get into a good rhythm, and a lot of times you saw guys running up and just misjudging things a little bit,” said Watt.
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