Rutherford the next cross-sport success story?

Olly Butterworth in Bobsleigh training camp.

By Joe Mansfield.

To make it to the top level in sport, athletes need to dedicate years of their life, honing their skills and mastering their craft. There are few success stories of people taking up a sport late on and achieving great things, though the likes of Anthony Joshua are exceptions to the rule.

Will Greg Rutherford be able to make the transition effectively from long jump to bobsleigh? World leading sprint coach Stuart McMillan thinks so…

It is a fact that the majority of sportsmen and women have participated in their sport of choice for years if not decades before they compete at the top level and that wealth of experience, generally, cannot be replaced.

Starting a sport late puts the athlete at an immediate disadvantage, but there is a sub stratum of sports people who stand a better chance than most. Those people are athletes who are transferring from one sport to another. Elite athletes tend to have genetic qualities and transferable skills that mean that if they apply themselves, they can transfer to a different sport.

There are a number of athletes who have transitioned between rugby codes and several combat sports athletes who have changed disciplines or moved to mixed martial arts. But there are also a number of sportsmen who have transitioned across sports that are very different. For example, Alex Carey played top level Aussie Rules Football and successfully made a career change to play cricket for the Australian national team. Primoz Roglic switched from ski jumping to being a Grand Tour winning cyclist.  Rebecca Romero won an Olympic silver medal in rowing in 2004 and then won a gold medal in cycling at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. There are countless others who have also dabbled in other sports to varying levels of success.

Another Olympic gold medallist is attempting to become a cross-sport success story as Rutherford has joined the GB Bobsleigh team. The 2012 Olympic long-jump champion has begun training to be the first Briton to win gold in both the summer and Winter Olympics. The red-haired hopper was part of the famous Super Saturday where the GB track team picked up three gold medals through Rutherford, Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis-Hill.

We are nearly nine years on from that famous night in London and Rutherford is planning another special moment. This time though he won’t be leaping into a sand pit. He will be hurtling down the ice at breakneck speeds in a sport in which he is yet to compete. To better understand his chances of success, I spoke to former GB Bobsleigh team member Ollie Butterworth to see how he thinks Rutherford will do.

“Hopefully really well, obviously he has got the make up for it but one thing I will say is a lot of people have come from Olympic track and field and thought it would be easier than it is. And this is what I mean when I say it doesn’t get the credit, it is very specific what you have to have.” Butterworth said.

“It’s not as simple as ‘well you are fast come and do bobsleigh’ because it’s a lot different to that and just being out on the season itself, bobsleigh is very intense. I mean you are coming down a track three, four or five times a day at sort of 80-90mph and experiencing about 5 G’s on corners. So there is more to it than just saying ‘right I’m just going to get really fast and strong and then push this bobsleigh’. But like I said, I hope he goes really well and he’s got every opportunity to.” He added.

It is important to note that a lot of the British Bobsleigh team is made up of track and field converts with the likes of Joel Fearon, Ben Simons and James Dasaolu all having a pedigree in athletics. Although the physical attributes and gifted genetics play a part, Butterworth was also keen to stress the importance of technique in the sport.

“Technique is absolutely massive in bobsleigh, there are two massive factors being your power and strength and then your speed and acceleration. I was very fortunate because I come from a track and field and also a rugby background, so I’ve sort of mixed both of those into my life from quite a young age.

“But technically yes, there is a lot to work on. Bobsleigh is a very niche sport; it probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves in this country, but there is a lot more to it than just pushing an object down a hill and getting in it.

“There is a lot to work on, especially when you do 4-man bobsleigh because you have obviously got four big guys trying to push an object as fast as they can and then get into a very small space. So, technique is huge.”

Time will tell if Rutherford can succeed, but it is certainly a journey worth following.