There are not enough good long jumpers. We are really struggling. we have zero strength in depth", says Greg Rutherford in this week's Athletics Weekly. This is a subject very close to my might heart as a former international long jumper and now coach. Have we every had strength in depth in the long jump? Could be more of a truer comment.
When I was competing 8m jumps were very rare. I think in my six or so years in the top 10 in the UK there were maybe 5-10, 8m jumps (not jumpers). Then how long did it take for Lynn Davies' 1968 set, British record of 8.23m to be broken? Thirty-five years. That's when Nathan Morgan jumped 8.26m. And it wasn't until 2011 until a Brit got over 8.30m - Chris Tomlinson with 8.35m. The rest of the world moved on, sort of. Overall long jumping in the noughties was not that spectacular. The US has (bar Dwight Philips) really only started to get going again in the long jump after the era of Carl Lewis, Mike Powell and Larry Myricks in the eighties and nineties - with the likes of Jeff Henderson and probably the bigger talent Jarrion lawson. Indeed on the whole world long jump standards have really only just started to pick-up recently speared on by Luvo Manyonga.
I coached a European junior Champion Elliot Safo (2013) - he's an incredibly talented jumper, yet in many ways he was lost to the sport, like many other talented athletes have from many other events. We're trying to entice him back BTW. We don't seem to be able to nurture our talent like other nations. When I was at the European Jumps convention in Falun last autumn it appeared that other European nations invested more in their athletes and attempted to keep them in their systems in some ways. Now this may be a reflection of the fact that they have fewer athletes of note and therefore in whichever event they come along in and have success in these nations don't want to let them go. Our athletic system can't run to supporting hundreds of talented athletes (unlike in professional football where one academy would have a budget I'd guess many times greater than the UKA Future's programme.
What can we do to get more long jump talent?
Well, try to hold onto the ones we have. It was great to see Feron Sayers start jumping well last year in particular, he like Elliot was a great talent in his junior days (7.80m). But do these and other athletes get support? Most of the post 23-year-old athletes competing in our national champs work full-time and have all those life commitments that preclude them really focussing on their profession. If you were England's 6th choice fly-half you'd not be juggling work with playing. Yet it's probably only Greg who is a full time jumper now.
Help has to come from somewhere.
We need to think how the process of helping our jumpers develop works. We need to share knowledge and resources and work together. We need to create a situation where 8m is the starting point and not the goal for success in the event. And yes, we do need more guys with speed to try the event as Greg highlights. Brutally honestly most of our long jumpers aren't really fast enough.
Rowing, and handball was it? had talent identification days, I think before the 2012 Olympics, basically they were searching for tall people! Why can't a similar speed and jump initiative be established for the long jump (and er triple jump). Men who can run consistently 10.40-10.70 for 100m... or around 6.70 for 60m... but who can jump, may be 6.50m without knowing how to jump, if that makes sense. It has to be said there are some sprinters who you can see would probably be able to jump and others that probably couldn't. But at least if we tried to find some talent then we might be able to unearth some 8m guys. The event with the success of our women and Greg in particular has a potential to be in the spotlight, it's just that the light is not switched on nor pointed in the right direction.
Postscript: Are we that bad?
The US has won the majority of Olympic long jump titles didn't recently in 2008 and 2012 (Irving Saladino and of course Greg did). Britain has won two Olympic long jump gold medals (Lynn & Greg) which is one more than any other nation other than the US. So we do have the talent, it just comes along sporadically. Now's to try to get a conveyor belt going.
Below (R). Elliot Safo: 2013 Euro junior long jump champion (world junior finalist; Euro Youth Olympics Gold medalist, Commonwealth Games Youth Games silver medallist). (Elliot, If you're reading this, it's time to dust of those spikes!!!)
Below (L) A look inside Feb 22nd Athletics Weekly