Three years on from the greatest night in British sporting history, one of its main protagonists is returning to the original stage. We speak to Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford about what it means to return to the London Olympic Stadium for the first time since THAT night.

Always knew

Let’s face it, Greg Rutherford, that ginger bloke from Milton Keynes, definitely wasn’t one of London 2012’s poster boys. Yet winning Olympic gold on that memorable Saturday night wasn't too much of a shock.

“My mum and dad had always believed I could win in London, and I myself thought I could. I’d be telling people ‘yes I think I can do it’ and people would be like ‘yea of course you can’, ” he laughs, rolling his eyes on the eve of the London leg of the Diamond League.

“Interestingly in that year [2012], I was world number one leading into the Games, yet still nobody really batted an eyelid about that. They just didn’t really care. I had always said in the lead up to it ‘if I’m fit and healthy, whatever the final might be, I can win’.”

Not always plain sailing

His body hadn’t always been working in his favour and only a month before the Games, he suffered a slight hamstring tear in Madrid. But thanks to intensive treatment and a small dose of intuition it all came together when it really mattered.

“So it’s a week before the games, we’re in Portugal at the holding camp. We do our last run-up and short approach take-off sessions just to see where I’m at, and it was just so easy, I was jumping so far from a short approach!

“I remember we did something like three take-offs from a run-up, so nothing too straining on the body. I was meant to do six and after the third both Dan [Pfaff, his coach at the time] and I looked at each other and said ‘don’t do any more, we couldn’t be any more ready’.”

A crowd like no other

Fast forward a week and it’s here: the Olympic games. Rutherford qualified easily for the final with a first round attempt of 8.08m. 

“I did what I had to do, and then the 4th August starts and I get to walk back into that stadium that evening, and that moment you walk in, you have to imagine that crowd, every time they saw a British athlete – they didn’t know who most of us were, they didn’t know who I was – but as soon as they saw a British kit, they went mental. 

“I remember coming out of the tunnel and it was like a wave of people around us seeing there’s Brits coming and then suddenly everyone is cheering. That moment, it really took my breath away for a second and I had a slight tear in the eye.” 

Greg Rutherford London 2012 ()

"It really took my breath away for a second and I had a slight tear in the eye."

46 minutes of madness

The Independent called it ‘46 minutes of delirium,’ but it was more like 90 for fans, especially in the stadium. Rutherford soars to 8.21m in his second attempt to take the lead. Minutes later, Jess Ennis takes gold in the heptathlon. Rutherford then improves to 8.31m in his fourth attempt, and moments later Mo Farah takes the 10,000m crown to make Saturday super.

“We’d always joked when looking at the Olympic schedule. I knew that Mo was up after me and Jess was before me, and I always said ‘even if I break the world record, no one is going to remember me, they’ll only remember Jess and Mo’.

“Whereas actually, the fact that we won three gold medals within 45 minutes, that’s what turned it into that special night. As much as it’s often still Mo, Jess and the other guy, I’m very happy being ‘the other guy’.

“No one needs to remember my name, but I go into an athletics stadium and they introduce me as the Olympic champion. I am only the person I am now due to the fact that I was lucky enough to win an Olympic gold medal alongside these two.”

Back to the theatre of dreams

This weekend all three protagonists of Super Saturday return to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. But while Jess and Mo got to experience the atmosphere at the 2013 Anniversary Games, Rutherford had to sit out the inaugural meet due to a hamstring tear.

“It is the first time back since 2012. I’ll be honest, I’m quite an emotional individual anyway, so there’s a chance I might shed a tear when I’m back in the Olympic Stadium. For me, it changed my life and the fact I get to compete there again, I can’t wait to step out on that track again.”

Greg Rutherford London 2012 ()

Did selfies exist in 2012?

“Not in my stadium”

“Maybe I can jump a little bit further than I did last time so I can improve the stadium record a bit,” he laughs. 

“I think Menkov jumped 8.31m in the 2013 Anniversary Games as well, so currently I’m sharing it, which I am not happy about at all, not in my stadium. So I have to jump further than that.” 

Underdog no more

After being hampered by injury in 2013, Rutherford proved doubters wrong in 2014. He set a British record of 8.51m early on and followed it up with a Commonwealth and European gold later that season. Next month he will look to complete his collection of international medals.

“I want to be ready to do something that next-to-no Brit ever has done, which is win all four major championships, and be the current holder of every single one of them. If I can pull that off, I’ll be over the moon.

“But ultimately the Olympics is what inspired me to get involved in sport, so Rio is where I want to do it all again. If I can hold all four and then retain my Olympic title, that would be really pushing it.”