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Greg Rutherford, Olympic long jump champ on Super Saturday, to retire

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Greg Rutherford, who earned long jump gold as part of Great Britain’s “Super Saturday” at the London Olympics but has struggled with injuries in his early 30s, will retire after this season.

“At times I am in so much pain I can’t even sit on the floor and play with my two kids,” Rutherford said, according to the Guardian, noting he has had five ankle surgeries, plus procedures on his foot, groin and stomach. “I still feel I am fast. I still feel as if I am super strong. But whenever I try to sprint or jump I have to take three days off because I am limping so much. In the end it wears you down.

“I keep asking myself, what’s more important to me – trying to be a mediocre athlete holding on to past glories or moving on?”

Rutherford, a 31-year-old known for his ginger-red hair and clutch performances at major championships, said he will compete at the European Championships in August, then conclude his career at a Diamond League meet in Birmingham, Great Britain.

“I’ve achieved so much but retirement comes early to those of us for whom sport is a livelihood,” was posted on Rutherford’s Instagram. “It only feels like yesterday I was winning my first major medal but now 12 years on, I sit here as the greatest long jumper Great Britain has ever had, one of the most successful in European history and someone ready to hang the spikes up for good.”

On Aug. 4, 2012, Rutherford earned long jump gold less than 10 minutes after countrywoman Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon and less than an hour before Mo Farah prevailed in the 10,000m. Ennis retired after taking silver at the Rio Games. Farah switched to marathons after last season.

Rutherford became the second British man to earn an Olympic long jump title after Lynn Davies in 1964.

He entered the Games as a medal favorite with the joint-farthest jump in the world that season. His winning jump in London, 8.31 meters (27 feet, 3 1/4 inches), was the shortest Olympic gold-medal distance since 1972.

Carl Lewis, a four-time Olympic long jump champion, criticized Rutherford’s generation of long jumpers (Rutherford was coached by Dan Pfaff, who worked with Lewis, and improved significantly in 2012 after changing his takeoff technique to mirror the U.S. legend.)

“[World-record holder] Mike [Powell] and me were jumping 28 feet regularly,” Lewis said in March 2016. “But this generation? Rutherford? I’m sorry, but it’s pathetic to me. He’s won everything. Are you kidding me? He’s doing his best. He’s jumping great. But he shouldn’t be winning with that.”

Rutherford went on to win his next three major championships — the 2014 Commonwealth Games, 2014 Europeans and 2015 Worlds — and then took bronze in Rio (behind U.S. gold medalist Jeff Henderson).

“I’m the Olympic, World, Commonwealth and European champion now,” Rutherford said at the 2015 Worlds. “I’m hoping that’s enough for people to accept I am a half-decent British athlete.”

In 2016, Rutherford said he was risking the hearing in his left ear for the rest of his life by continuing to jump. He developed cochlear hydrops, a rare ear disorder that left him partially deaf, after sustaining whiplash in competition.

“If the room falls silent all I hear is loud white noise, so it’s been a struggle to sleep,” Rutherford said then.

He missed the 2017 Worlds at the London Olympic Stadium with ankle ligament damage and a sports hernia. He has competed in four outdoor meets since Rio, none of them at the top international level.

Rutherford’s personal-best jump of 8.51 meters ranks him joint 23rd all time and sixth among European jumpers.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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I’m incredibly proud of my career. I’ve achieved so much but retirement comes early to those of us for whom sport is a livelihood. It only feels like yesterday I was winning my first major medal but now 12 years on, I sit here as the greatest long jumper Great Britain has ever had, one of the most successful in European history and someone ready to hang the spikes up for good. • I want to thank everyone who’s had a positive impact on my career (but I’d struggle to name everyone here) Most importantly, the greatest coach I could have ever wished for – @danpfaff. My full potential would never have been reached and that Olympic gold medal would never have been won, if it wasn't for his guidance and input. • I’m going to go for the European Championships one final time. And then I’ll also be jumping in Birmingham and London for the Diamond Leagues. If you fancy coming to watch me compete one last time then please do come on down and give me a wave. It'd be so great to finish with some roaring crowds. • Thank you for all your love and support over the years. It’s been a blast & your kind comments have always given me a push in the right direction. • Grab the @guardian tomorrow to see my exclusive interview with Sean Ingle; we go in to my decision/future plans in further detail there. • @susiejverrill @andrewsteele @aurumsportsgroup @drgerryramogida @andyjburkeuk @melvintann27 @nike … Thank you so much for you help.

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Watch Colin Kaepernick introduce Tommie Smith, John Carlos at USATF Night of Legends

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Twenty-four members of the 1968 U.S. Olympic track and field team appeared at the USATF Night of Legends. Two in particular received a standing ovation before an award presentation.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who earned 200m gold and bronze medals and then raised their black-gloved fists on the medal stand, were introduced via video by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a fellow athlete fighting for social justice.

“Fifty years ago, these two men shook the world,” Kaepernick said in the video. “Their selfless and courageous act had an impact on the heart and mind of millions and have been a huge inspiration to me, personally. They laid the foundation not only for what the conscience of an athlete should look like, but also the world.”

Smith and Carlos then walked on stage at the Night of Legends, which honored the top U.S. athletes and performances of 2018, along with Hall of Fame inductees. NBCSN will air the event on Saturday at 11 p.m. ET.

They presented the Jesse Owens Award, which goes annually to the top U.S. male athlete. Fellow 200m sprinter Noah Lyles earned the honor.

“If he would give you and I a two-day head start, I think we could beat him in the 200m,” Carlos joked to Smith. “We’ve got to lean,” Smith replied.

Lyles, 21, joined Usain Bolt as the only men to break 19.7 seconds in the 200m four times in one year. His best time — 19.65 — was the world’s fastest since Bolt’s last world title in 2015. Lyles also became the youngest U.S. men’s 100m champion in 34 years. He’s the second-youngest person to earn USATF Athlete of the Year after Allyson Felix.

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MORE: John Carlos, Tommie Smith remember 1968 Olympics on 50th anniversary

Surfer Stephanie Gilmore’s path to Olympics joined by Cathy Freeman

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Stephanie Gilmore, like many Australians of her generation, points to one iconic sports moment of her childhood — Cathy Freeman winning the 400m at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

“I remember just being so blown away by the pressure [that Freeman felt],” said Gilmore, who was 12 years old at the time, two years before signing her first sponsor deal with Rip Curl. Surfing wasn’t part of the Olympics then, but it got Gilmore thinking about her other sports, like field hockey, soccer and track and field.

“I could go to the Olympics and throw a javelin or a discus,” she thought.

Gilmore stuck to surfing. Wise move.

Seventeen years later, Gilmore met Freeman for the first time. With the sport added to the Olympics, Surfing Australia brought Freeman to speak to more than a dozen Tokyo 2020 hopefuls at a camp in New South Wales last January.

“I was basically in such awe of her,” Gilmore said while visiting New York City last week, fresh off her female record-tying seventh world title. “She was so genuine and just talking about how she would find her sacred place in that moment that every single [set of] eyes all over the world were on her.

“Now I’m an even bigger fan.”

It’s hard to imagine Gilmore’s 2019 or 2020 topping her 2018. She won her first world title in four years and saw the World Surf League announce equal prize money for men and women starting next season. That came after a difficult stretch.

“My motivation and inspiration had sort of waned,” Gilmore said of going two and a half years between WSL wins from 2014 to 2017, including missing most of the 2016 season with hairline fractures around her knee. “Traveling so much can get a little tiring. You lose confidence, too, as you’re going along.”

Gilmore says that in Australia, each little beach has its own surf club. That’s where she began competing against the boys while Freeman was fresh in the minds of the Australian public. By 17, Gilmore was entering top-level international events, even winning her home beach event in 2005, then earned her first of four straight world titles in 2007.

On Dec. 27, 2010, Gilmore was attacked outside her home by a man with a metal bar whom she didn’t know. He hit her in the head and wrist, drawing blood and tearing ligaments before fleeing and later being caught, according to reports at the time.

Gilmore competed in the season’s first contest two months later, won an event four months after that and finished third in the season standings.

Gilmore won the first and last events of the 10-stop season in 2017, placing second overall to countrywoman Tyler Wright and just ahead of another Aussie, Sally Fitzgibbons. It’s likely that no nation will qualify more than two Olympic surfing spots per gender. Gilmore is three years older than Fitzgibbons and six years older than Wright. Time may not be on her side. All three were invited to Surfing Australia’s January camp for Olympic hopefuls.

The 2019 World Surf League standings should determine the two Aussie women who go to Tokyo. Gilmore needs to set herself apart from the best in the world, since they’re also the best from her country.

She did just that in 2018. Gilmore won three of the season’s first six events and clinched the world title on the first day of the 10th and final contest in Maui two weeks ago. She was the lone Australian woman to win any event this year. Wright missed the second half of the season with the flu and chronic fatigue.

Gilmore said the sting of losing the season’s first event — a quarter-mile from her Coolangatta home — and the anticipation of leading the standings going into the last event were proof that the motivation was back.

She couldn’t sleep the night before the Maui contest, unusual for her.

“All the what-ifs and the fear of failure and all these sorts of things in my head,” Gilmore said. “Yeah, it was mine to lose.”

She chilled out upon tackling the first wave of round one. She clinched the title when American Lakey Peterson bowed out in an early round. Only good friend Kelly Slater has more titles than Gilmore’s seven. The 11-time world champion said he believes Gilmore can reach his tally.

The two FaceTimed shortly after Gilmore’s celebration, explaining the intricacies of how waves barrel to WSL owner Dirk Ziff. Gilmore and Slater also talk music. Both play the guitar.

“He’s always been there,” said Gilmore, who is on a Led Zeppelin kick and often buys a guitar while at contests and leaves it there when she departs.

Gilmore believes that over the last decade surfing has gained on swimming and rugby in popularity in a nation where a majority of the population lives within a short drive of the ocean.

“The Olympic swimmers have always been held in the highest regard,” she said. “Ian Thorpe is probably our greatest Olympian. The swimmers have always been the most recognized athletes in our country. We’re such a small population in our country, but I feel like everyone surfs.”

MORE: Will Kelly Slater go for Tokyo 2020?

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