Luvo Manyonga’s long jump silver medal has pushed South Africa up to six medals at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro. It might have been an even better night for the Capetonian, who led the event with just three jumps to go. Ultimately his 8.37 metre leap was good enough for second place as American Jeff Henderson overtook Manyonga with his final jump.
Henderson won gold with a leap of 8.38 metres to snatch the Olympic gold medal from the South Africa at the death. Moments after the long jump competition a jubilant Manyonga said: ‘I have beaten my demons. They have tried all these years to bring me down but now I have made it.’ His reference to personal demons was not unfounded. 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’ (methamphetamine) 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. But, instead of giving up on life and feeling sorry for himself, Manyonga decided he was going to make something of his life. He says: ‘Yesterday is dead and I can do nothing to undo the past. It is what happens tomorrow that is important.’ The Tuks/HPC athlete certainly made “tomorrow” happen when he launched himself into the air in the fourth round with massive jump of 8.28 metres to take the lead. But the best was yet to come. With his fifth attempt he jumped a personal best of 8.37 metres.
Photo credits: WESSEL OOSTHUIZEN / SASPA
Manyonga and his coach, Neil Cornelius, had a quick scare when Jarrion Lawson (USA) landed in the sandpit with his last jump. It looked like a massive effort but, unfortunately for the American, his left arm dropped way back. This cost him valuable centimetres and he remained in fourth place. The 2012 Olympic champion, Greg Rutherford, made sure he won the bronze medal by jumping 8.29 metres with his last attempt.
The Tuks/HPC athlete stuck to a principle of making his first jump count. He is fond of saying: ‘With a good first attempt you ‘buy’ five more jumps.’ According to the Olympic silver medallist this was all a process in the making: ‘I made a list of goals and posted them on a wall where I could look at them every day as a sort of a reminder. As I reached each small goal I ticked it off until nothing remained. Then I made a new list and continued ‘ticking’ off the items. The last tick was winning the medal.’ Cornelius described Manyonga’s silver performance as unbelievable: ‘To be totally honest, at the moment it all still feel unreal. As coach I could not have asked for a more fantastic Olympic experience for Luvo. If ever there was an athlete who deserved to medal it is Luvo. Over the last few weeks he was totally committed and it made me realize that something great was in the happening.’
Cornelius nearly missed the long jump final. The driver who was meant to drive him to the stadium got lost which meant that Cornelius had to hail a taxi. He only arrived at the track when Luvo was measuring out his approach. When Manyonga was asked if he had any advice for youngsters who consider experimenting with ‘TIK’, Manyonga’s advice was: ‘Don’t do it! It is not worth it. 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. I used to have regrets and there were many days when I wished I had not given in to the temptation. But I realised that to keep on blaming myself for what had happened did not serve any purpose. It is defeatist and only made me unhappy.’