Luvo legs it to gold
World champion long jumper has his sights firmly set on breaking the world record
LONDON: A boyhood rivalry reached a fantastic crescendo as Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai shared a podium at the pinnacle of their sport at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Manyonga produced a brilliant gold-medal performance in the long jump with Samaai playing a supporting role in a glittering South African performance winning the bronze medal at the World Championships on Saturday.
It was a “super Saturday” for South African track and field as Manyonga and Samaai claimed the country’s first double-medal haul in the same final at the global showpiece.
“Luvo was a drug addict, he just came back and won a freaking gold medal at the world championships and that is an amazing story. I had to walk 10km to the track and back every single day,” Samaai said.
“So what wouldn’t motivate you from this, and now both of us are standing on the podium, not just representing ourselves but each and every person in the same circumstances we came through.”
Manyonga and Samaai grew up 10km from each other in Paarl, and the long jump provided the escape route from an environment of drugs and gang-related violence.
Samaai had to navigate the harsh realities of life in Amstelhof while Manyonga faced the same tough life in Mbekweni.
Samaai dedicated Saturday night’s double haul to the kids with the odds stacked against them but who dare to dream.
“We represent so many people that believe in us and so many children out there looking for an escape,” Samaai said.
“This can represent their escape, if these guys can do it then we can also do it. They just have to step up to their ability.”
For Manyonga, the victory meant he can finally close the book on a past that has been haunting him since 2012 when he received an 18-month ban for the use of a recreational drug.
“I feel awesome, it is a great feeling to be the world champion. Now, I don’t think about what happened in the past, I just think about tomorrow,” he said.
Manyonga produced his winning jump of 8.48m on his second attempt.
Samaai got his hand on the bronze on his fifth attempt with a jump of 8.27m before securing the third place with a final leap of 8.32m.
American Jarrion Lawson won the silver medal with a leap of 8.44m.
LUVO Mayonga has the world long jump gold medal safely tucked away in his suitcase and will now continue his pursuit of one of the last remaining dust-covered world records.
“It means a lot to my country, this is not the end, we are going to show the world what South Africa is made of,” Manyonga said.
“At the beginning of the year I told myself: ‘Luvo, you are going to take everything this year’, and that is what is happening now.
“I am pushing myself to get the world record, I don’t know the exact date but it is going to come some time soon.”
Seven years ago Manyonga came home to a hero’s welcome, which included a parade through Mbekweni, after winning the 2010 World Junior title.
Manyonga has come full circle as he makes incremental improvements in his pursuit of the world record of 9.95m held by American Mike Powell.
Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai claimed the country’s first double medal haul in the same final at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.
The Paarl duo they walked away with gold and bronze after Mayonga won his maiden world title with Samaai finishing in third place.
The double medal-haul added to the silver medal former South African record-holder Khotso Mokoena won in 2009 establishing the country as one of the modern day long-jump world powers.
Inducing a red flag on his first attempt Manyonga was under pressure from the get go but launched a superb 8.48-metre leap in the second round.
Threatening to spoil Manyonga’s party throughout the competition was American Jarrion Lawson who leapt to a 8.43m on his second attempt and got within four centimetres on his final jump.
Manyonga admitted his nerves were shot as he had flashbacks of the Rio Olympic Games where he held the lead until the final round when Jeff Henderson of the United States beat him by one centimetre.
“I felt the pressure even before I started the competition because I was leading the whole year and the fans expected me to win gold easily but the guys didn’t give me that chance,” Manyonga said.
“It was very tight competition and on his (Lawson) last jump I almost got a heart attack because I thought it was going to happen again this year.”
After finishing in a disappointing ninth place at the Rio Olympic Games, Samaai produced a resilient performance to earn his place on the podium.
Samaai made a promising start with a creditable jump of 8.25m and as the rounds progressed Samaai moved into fourth place before moving taking third place with an 8.37m on his fifth attempt.
He further cemented the bronze medal with a final jump of 8.32m to finally banish the memory of 2016.
Manyonga said the double medal effort represented the beginning of greater things for South African athletics provided athletes had the backing from the federation.
“Let’s just hope we are going to get the support and the structures to get more athletes here to earn global medals,” Samaai said yesterday.
A bitter rivalry that has been going on since they were schoolboys have resulted in a friendship but also one of South Africa’s greatest long jump achievement on the global stage.
“We’ve always been friends throughout all the competitions and we have been friends till this day,” Samaai said.
Luvo Manyonga celebrates after winning the gold medal in the long jump at the World Athletics Championships in London on Saturday.
COMMON GROUND: Luvo Manyonga, left, and Ruswahl Samaai are spent after the men’s long jump final at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London on Saturday.
DAY AT THE BEACH: Luvo Manyonga of South Africa celebrates winning gold at the IAAF World Championships in London on Saturday.