Luvo Manyonga (Tuks) qualified for the Olympic Games this morning when he jumped 8.20 metres in a league meeting at Pilditch. What is amazing about the former junior world long jump champion’s performance is that it was the first time in more than a year that he officially competed. He qualified for the Games with his first jump.
Manyonga who trains at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria (HPC) jumped into a headwind of 1.5 metres per second. The Olympic qualifications standard is 8.15 metres. Neil Cornelius, his coach, was speechless after Manyonga’s ‘big jump’.
He readily admits that he was caught totally off-guard: ‘I could see during the week that he was jumping farther than eight metres which was a good sign. I was hoping that he might jump 8.05 metres today. That would have been great. To be honest I thought we still had to do some work for him to jump 8.15m and farther. But then he had this one perfect jump. He had a good run-up and launched himself into the air with ease and seemingly just flew through the air. He really made it look so easy. When it was announced how far he had jumped I was stumped. It is moments like this that make it special to be an athletics coach. After his jump we immediately decided to call it a day because we were just so surprised. As the coach I was afraid that Manyonga might get over eager and try to improve on his jump of 8.20 metres. It is when an athlete tries and forces his technique that there is a real risk of him getting injured. I was not prepared for him to risk doing that because he had put in a lot of long hard and dedicated hours to fully recover from an ankle injury.’ Manyonga’s performance proves that any adversity can be overcome if an athlete is really committed to undo past mistakes. At the end of 2011 Manyonga was considered to be the next real deal in South African athletics, and with very good reason.
At a meeting in Jamsa, Finland he jumped 8.26 metres. This made him South Africa’s second best long jumper of all time at that stage. His performance at that year’s World Championships in Daegu was also impressive.
To finish fifth in your first ‘Worlds’, with a distance of 8.21 metres, is not bad going. The Tuks/HPC athlete’s rise to ‘athletics stardom’ began in 2010 when he won the world title at the Junior Championships in Moncton, Canada, with a jump of 8.19 metres. This is still the African and South African Junior record.
In 2012, at the South African Championships, his career suddenly spiralled out of control when an announcement was made that he had tested positive for ‘TIK’ and was banned for two years. To make matters worse his long-time coach, Mario Smit, died in a car accident in 2014, just at the time when Manyonga was making his comeback. He says: ‘I can honestly say that I hit rock bottom and my life was a living hell after I was banned for using a banned substance. Luckily for me, there came a time when I realised that I was feeling sorry for myself and that it was not helping. The way I was behaving was a definite way to total self-destruction. I talked to some friends and begged them to help me. I have to thank Gideon Sam, the president of SASCOC, who supported me right through my whole ordeal. He is one of the people who never lost faith in me.’
Photo credit: Danie Cornelius