Luvo legs it to gold

World cham­pion long jumper has his sights firmly set on break­ing the world record

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - OCKERT DE VIL­LIERS

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.

PIC­TURE: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS

Luvo Many­onga cel­e­brates after win­ning the gold medal in the long jump at the World Athletics Cham­pi­onships in Lon­don on Satur­day.

PIC­TURE: EPA

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.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

DAY AT THE BEACH: Luvo Many­onga of South Africa cel­e­brates win­ning gold at the IAAF World Cham­pi­onships in Lon­don on Satur­day.

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