Sometimes you have to lose something to really appreciate it. Luvo Manyonga, a former junior long jump world champion, will certainly vouch for the truth of this. The good news for South African athletics is that, after an absence of three years, mainly because he was caught using ‘TIK’ (methamphetamine), Manyonga is back.
He is training at Tuks Athletics and is based at the High Performance Centre (HPC). Manyonga made a promise to himself that he will make the most of this second chance. He fully realises that this might be his last opportunity to achieve something in his life.
He says: ‘I owe it to myself and the people who never lost faith in me or my abilities as a long jumper to redeem myself. I have “stuffed up” big time.’ 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.
Manyonga’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. 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 his faith in me and who continued telling me that I should take back control of my life. He even came to my house to talk to me. He became a true father figure to me. It was Gideon who suggested that I should move to Johannesburg or Pretoria and start all over.’
When 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 tell them that once you start using it you become powerless. You may tell yourself that you are still in control and can stop using it whenever you want to, but it will be lie. TIK is a mentally manipulative drug which will take over your whole life. While you are on a high you feel absolutely wonderful and are able to make the most fantastic plans. You feel as if you can conquer the world, but unfortunately the feeling does not last. I have done things of which I am truly ashamed just to get money to buy the drug. You lose all perception of what is right or wrong. All that matters is to get your fix. It was important to get out of the Western Cape and away from my old life where the drug dealers know me and will provide me with drugs even if I don’t have any money.’
Manyonga becomes quite excited when he starts talking about his comeback and especially about long jumping. He says: ‘I don’t want to make any bold predictions at this stage, but I can say that when I am in form again my goal will be to get as close as possible to the world record. Who knows, maybe I might even be the first to go past nine metres.’ According to Neil Cornelius, his coach at Tuks, their immediate goal will be to get Manyonga back into shape and his body used to regular workouts again.
Cornelius says: ‘At this stage Luvo is only training four times a week, but the plan is to increase it to six training sessions per week. That excludes gym work. If everything goes according to plan Luvo might be able to compete in one or two meetings at the end of the year, just to get a feel for competitions again. I have no doubt that he won’t struggle to get past eight metres. The challenge will be to ensure that he does so consistently.’
Photo credit: Danie Cornelius