Greg Rutherford makes GB bobsleigh squad to keep his Olympic dream alive

The Guardian
The Guardian
(Left to right): Lamin Deen, Ben Simons, Joel Fearon, Greg Rutherford and Toby Olubi pose with their new GB bobsleigh sled at Callum Designs.

Greg Rutherford’s audacious dream of becoming the first British athlete to win a medal at a summer and winter Olympics has moved a significant step closer after he was selected for the GB bobsleigh squad that will attempt to qualify for Beijing 2022.

Rutherford received the news, which will be announced later this week, after excelling in a series of tests at British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association headquarters in Bath and is now training hard for his first event in Igls in Austria in seven weeks’ time.

“There were a few doubters when I said I wanted to make the Winter Olympics in April but I always back and believe in myself and I am absolutely delighted to have been selected,” said Rutherford, who won long jump gold at London 2012 and bronze in Rio 2016 before retiring from athletics in 2018. “I am extremely confident we can qualify for Beijing and go on to achieve something very special.”

To make the squad, the 34-year-old went through a series of timed tests earlier this month which involved pushing a heavy sled using each of its four handles as fast as possible.

“I was a bit concerned beforehand having rolled my ankle while working at the Tokyo Olympics but on one of the handles I was the second quickest in our entire squad, and I was third on two others,” he explained. “That puts me on a sled and so it’s really exciting.”

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What makes Rutherford’s story even more remarkable is he only started to think seriously about competing at the Winter Olympics in February after speaking to double Olympic bobsleigh driver Lamin Deen, and GB bobsleigh coaches Steve Smith and John Herbert, who told him his speed, power and weight would be assets.

Rutherford has been put in Deen’s five-man team, alongside sub-10 sprinter and 2014 Winter Olympics bronze medallist Joel Fearon, Ben Simons and Toby Olubi. They will attempt to qualify for Beijing in the two and four-man events – with Rutherford earmarked for the four-man bob.

To qualify, the GB sleds will have to come in the top 12 in three of the seven qualifying events that conclude with the European Championships in San Moritz in January. But Rutherford believes that should be a formality given Deen has already raced in two Olympics and – crucially – recently acquired a fast new sled to replace his 15-year-old model.
Greg Rutherford lifting weights in his house during training earlier this year. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

“Don’t forget Team GB won a medal in 2014 after the Russians were banned,” said Rutherford, whose journey in the next few months is being turned into a documentary by Discovery. “It wasn’t that long ago but nobody seems to talk about that – they all seem to talk about Cool Runnings.

“But there is a little bit of a Cool Runnings theme for our team too, given we are not funded by UK Sport and we have to figure it all out ourselves. And the great thing about it is there’s a chance of a fairytale ending.”

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If Rutherford does make it to Beijing he will face a formidable challenge in his attempt to make history. Only one athlete, Eddie Eagan of the USA, has won ever gold medals at the summer and winter Olympics as a light-heavyweight boxer in Antwerp in 1920 and in the four-man bobsleigh in Lake Placid in 1932 – while only four others have ever won medals in winter and summer Games.

But Rutherford insists it is possible. “From here to Beijing, I’ll be doing exactly what I did as a jumper every single day,” he said. “I’ll be mentally preparing myself to try and win by going through those same rituals that I did before London and Rio. I’m not here to be a tourist. And this team is not just planning to make up the numbers. We all want to give it our absolute best to try and come away with something as well – something very, very special.”

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