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Golden boy Rutherford ponders his next move
ON first glance, it looked like an unremarkable wooden box.
Positioned in front of Greg Rutherford as he appeared at Gateshead International Stadium yesterday to help launch next year's European Athletics Team Championships, it could have been the carry case for a particularly nice pen. For the rest of his life though, it will define his sporting career.
It contains an Olympic gold medal, and not just any old gold medal, if such a thing exists, but one of the three Olympic athletics golds that found their way into British hands on the evening of Super Saturday, a span of three hours that, to many, was the highlight of the 2012 Games.
It speaks of remarkable glory, yet as Britain's golden year draws to an end, Rutherford is one of a number of newly-crowned champions pondering how best to move on and ensure this summer's achievements are not the be all and end all of their days.
The long jumper turned 26 at the weekend, so could potentially spend the best part of the next decade competing at the highest level. No matter how incredible this summer was, it will be insufficient to satisfy him indefinitely.
"Everything that's happened is fantastic, but I have to put it to bed," said Rutherford, who is currently resting after hernia and foot operations that were delayed until the end of the season. "I'm still relatively young so I'm hoping I've still got two more Olympics in me.
"As much as the gold medal is awesome and I'm really pleased with it, I have other things I want to attain and that I aspire to achieve in my career.
"I want to become one of the greatest ever long jumpers, and to do that, I cant just rest around saying I won the Olympics. That's not going to get me anywhere.
"It's interesting how things change. The last few months have been really good fun, but I'm a long jumper and I love track and field.
"The reason I do it is that it's the one thing I seem to be good at, and it's the one thing I love more than anything else. I have such a massive passion and love for the sport that I know I have to make the most of my career while I can."
To that end, he is preparing to leave Britain at the turn of the year, eschewing the never-ending round of celebrity events that would be open to him in order to embark on an intensive winter training camp in the United States.
He will skip the indoor season in order to allow his foot to heal, but should be at peak fitness for the whole of the outdoor campaign, which will culminate in the World Championships in Moscow.
As Olympic champion, it would be easy to sidestep events such as the European Team Championships along the way, yet as someone whose medal haul prior to this summer stood at just two silvers from the European Championships and Commonwealth Games, Rutherford is not about to start taking any degree of success for granted.
"Having the opportunity to compete for your country is always something I'm very proud of," he said. "In track and field, you don't get the opportunity to compete as regularly as you might in a sport like football.
"I take every competition I do very seriously, and whenever I compete, I want to win. Going forward, that wont change just because I've won an Olympic gold medal.
"I can already feel the desire is stronger than its ever been to go out and prove it's not just one medal and I'm not just a one-trick pony.
"I want to attain as many medals as I can and walk away with a decent career behind me. I don't just want to win one gold - I want to win multiples.
"I also want to do well in these Team Championships because I've never really been able to do myself justice in them in the past. That's something that's on my agenda next year."
Rutherford will have to earn his place on the team first, with North-Easterner Chris Tomlinson likely to push him hard for the solitary long-jump spot.
Tomlinson beat Rutherford the last time the pair competed in the region, although the Olympic champion's injured foot undoubtedly contributed to his below-par showing at September's Great North City Games.
Rutherford relishes the chance to compete in the annual event on the Quayside, partly because of the uniqueness of the venue, and partly because it reminds him of his roots.
His great grandfather, Jock, was a Northumberland-born footballer who won three league titles and played in five FA Cup finals for Newcastle United.
"I would love to get into St James' Park and have a look at some of the history," he said. "I have the books so I know all about what my great grandad achieved, but I'd love to meet someone who saw him play.
"I know the chances of that are quite thin because it's about 90 years ago now, but it would be amazing if that happened. It's something that's always been close to my heart because I've always had family living around Blyth and in this area.
"Whenever I'm up here, I seem to bump into a new great-aunt or someone like that. It's an extended part of the family I don't know very well, but it would be great to investigate it a bit more."