Greg Rutherford and partner Natalie Lowe invited TV Times to their rehearsal studio to talk blood, sweat and tears that goes into preparing for Strictly

In the far corner of a quiet gym in Milton Keynes, long jumper Greg Rutherford and Strictly favourite Natalie Lowe are comparing spray tans.

“I went for 12%, it’s very dark on me,” said Greg. “Oh I do 16% and I go in twice!’ replied Natalie. “The maximum is 18%, I might try that next week.”

TV Times feels decidedly pasty as we grab a coffee with Greg and Natalie. And between the laughs and training horror stories it’s not long before we discover that 2012 Olympic gold medalist, Greg, is one of the most hard-working contestants in Strictly history – this gym really has seen blood, sweat and tears…

Greg, you were very nervous when you started Strictly, weren’t you?
“I was so worried in the group rehearsals. Everyone else was so much better than me and I never wanted to be a joke contestant, so I just started panicking. But thankfully Nat rescued me and took me under her wing.”
Natalie: “I didn’t realise he was at the back of the room holding back tears! He’s come a long way, honestly he’s worked so hard. He had the jive in the first week, which is notoriously difficult and he was so good, he shocked me.”

Is Greg your perfect partner?
Natalie: “
I love dancing with sportsmen because of their work ethic, plus I’m 5ft 10in so it’s nice to have a partner strong and tall enough to make me feel like a lady. Greg is 6ft 2in, but once I’ve fixed his posture he will be 6ft 3in!”
Greg: “My girlfriend is a dancer and she is always telling me that my posture is awful, and that I’m pigeon toed…”
Natalie: “Good, I like that! I actually first met Greg in 2012 and suggested he should do Strictly, so I really hoped I would be his partner. We have mutual friends and he needs my help!”

We hear your training has been very intense?
Greg: “
We stay in the gym until they kick us out and sometimes my brain is so frazzled – the other day I was just lying in the middle of the floor saying, ‘No more, please!’ One session we worked so hard that Nat was ill. I felt bad.”
Natalie: “I was physically unwell that night, it makes me feel sick just thinking about it. Twice now he’s done that to me, just repeating the dance over and over again. I didn’t like Greg on those days!”
Greg: “I can switch into a different mode where I tune out the fact that I’m in pain and I can just repeat things over and over. I developed that through sport and can apply it to Strictly.”

It sounds like we can expect some ambitious routines?
“We actually had to adapt our jive because we wanted to do a really extreme jump into a lift, it was epic. Then during rehearsals Nat missed the position and as she grabbed me she ripped a nail off, which then bled everywhere. Then we tried again and we lost it, so I fell to the floor, and couldn’t move. I thought I’d never have children again!”
Natalie: “We’ll definitely do it at some stage because it’s so cool, probably when we do the salsa. Greg is really quick to pick things up, but he does go too fast. The first step of the first performance I freaked out, I was like ‘Slow down!’”

 Greg already has the discipline of regular training – does that help?
“I’m very used to being told what to do, but my usual coach is an old American man with a massive moustache! I cannot explain to you just how different track and field is to dancing, they are polar opposites. Natalie’s had to completely change the way my legs are always bowed.

“Luckily I’ve never cared about people looking at me because my job is jumping into a sand pit wearing a pair of tight Lycra shorts and a vest!”

You were gutted to come away from Rio with a bronze medal. Is Strictly an opportunity to banish those demons?
“This has been a really nice focus away from the Games because obviously I was very disappointed with what happened there, it was very hard for me to take. Strictly has given me something else to concentrate on because if I had to think about the Olympics every day it would really get me down. After this I’ll go back to being an athlete and hopefully I will feel revitalised towards the sport again, it’s very positive for me.”

Athletes are always competitive, are you already dreaming of the final?
“Hopefully I’ll be in the show for a long time and ultimately I would love to win it, that’s the plan. I don’t think I’m the best dancer by any stretch of the imagination, but I think I can work harder than anybody else.”
Natalie: “I’d love to hold the glitterball up, but it’s just about doing our best each week. I’ve got an amazing partner this year so I don’t want to leave any stone unturned, I want to give him all that I’ve got so he can shine.”

Who is your biggest competition?
“Danny – for goodness sake, he’s one step away from a West End show! I love him and his week one dance was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. Then I look at myself and think, ‘Oh no!’”
Natalie: “He’s definitely one of the strongest celebs we’ve ever had. But I’d like to see him long jump…”
Greg: “I wish it was a long jump competition to be honest, I might have that sewn up!”

Strictly continues on BBC1 on Saturday at 6.45pm and Sunday at 7.15pm