Great Britain's Greg Rutherford sets a new National Record of 8.30m and reaches the automatic qualification in the men's Long Jump qualifying in Berlin (Getty Images) © Copyright
The season started out well for Greg Rutherford, who equalled the British record of 8.35m at the beginning of May with a mark that remains at the top of this year’s rankings. Fans in London would love to see a home victory – the first in this event since Lynn Davies’ gold in 1964 – but Rutherford was a last-minute withdrawal from the London Diamond League, while in his last competition before that he finished just eighth in Madrid with a windy 7.81m after suffering from cramp.
Nevertheless, provided his body has had ample recovery time, Rutherford cannot be counted out. Nor can fellow British record-holder Chris Tomlinson, who produced the fourth-best jump of his career to finish second at the London Diamond League with 8.26m, following it with a third-place finish in Monaco.
The winner on that occasion was defending Olympic champion Irving Saladino. Since winning in Beijing four years ago, the Panamanian has lost his air of supremacy with three global championships performances he is keen to forget. He failed to register a mark at the 2009 World Championships, and did not reach the final at both the 2010 World Indoors and the 2011 World Championships. But after a delayed start to his season, Saladino looks to be hitting top form when it matters most.
The same is true of Australian record-holder Mitchell Watt. The world silver medallist is not quite in the same form as last year, but has won four of his five competitions this year and is no stranger to being on the podium at major championships. Will his consistency finally be rewarded with a gold medal?
Better known for his exploits indoors, Germany’s Sebastian Bayer looks capable of threatening for a medal. An 8.71m indoor jumper at best, Bayer recently leapt 8.34m – the third-best jump of his career – to take the European title in Helsinki.
With a total of 22 golds, the USA has won more Olympic Long Jump titles than any other nation, while no other country has won more than one gold in the event. American athletes will be keen to improve on their performance in Beijing four years ago, where – for the first time ever at the Olympics, excluding the boycotted 1980 Games – no American athletes reached the Long Jump final.
2004 Olympic champion Dwight Phillips will be conspicuous in his absence, as the four-time World Champion has been forced to forfeit the season through injury. Instead the USA will this year be represented by US champion Marquise Goodwin, World Indoor Triple Jump Champion Will Claye and relative unknown George Kitchens. Claye could well be the USA’s best bet, as Goodwin has endured a long and demanding collegiate season, while Kitchens’ has only once bettered eight metres in his life.
Perhaps the dark horse could be Russian youngster Sergey Morgunov. Earlier this year he broke Randy Williams’ long-standing World junior record with 8.35m to join Rutherford at the top of this year’s rankings. The World Junior Champion is now aiming to follow in Williams’ footsteps by winning Olympic gold.
In such an open year for the event, there are many genuine contenders and they include surprise World Indoor Champion Mauro da Silva of Brazil, Swedish record-holder Michel Torneus and defending Olympic silver medallist Godfrey Mokoena.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF
1999 Galfione on track