No dis­tance too far for stel­lar Sa­maai

Isn’t go­ing to Brazil just to call him­self an Olympian ...

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - OCKERT DE VIL­LIERS

AL­READY liv­ing his dream as a pro­fes­sional ath­lete, long jump ace Ruswahl Sa­maai is well on his way to reach­ing the pin­na­cle in his sport as he goes in search of sil­ver­ware at the Rio Olympics.

Far re­moved from his hum­ble be­gin­nings but well-rooted in his child­hood dreams, Sa­maai has be­come an in­spi­ra­tional fig­ure in lo­cal track and field.

Sa­maai was raised by his mother and lived in a shack in Paarl, and had to walk al­most 10 kilo­me­tres to and from train­ing through a rough neig­bour­hood.

The Com­mon­wealth Games bronze medal­list now proudly speaks of how he has risen above his cir­cum­stances, to emerge as one of South Africa’s medal prospects in Brazil.

“There were good times and there were bad times, but some of those things shaped me into the per­son I am to­day,” he said.

“I want to show the other up-and­com­ing ath­letes that there is a way out. Don’t let your cir­cum­stances stab you in the back, and stand in the way of what you want to achieve one day.”

This week proved to be a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in Sa­maai’s ca­reer as he, along with South African 100m record- holder Akani Sim­bine, signed a spon­sor­ship deal with a world-lead­ing Ja­panese elec­tron­ics man­u­fac­turer.

“I thought things would change after the Com­mon­wealth Games and that I would get more sup­port from my fed­er­a­tion, but un­til this day noth­ing has changed,” Sa­maai said.

“But I don’t al­low things like that to get me down, this (the spon­sor­ship deal) is only the be­gin­ning of big­ger things to come.”

His star be­gun to shine in 2014 when he leapt to the Com­mon­wealth Games bronze medal with a best ef­fort of 8.08m. It was also the first year that he man­aged to jump fur­ther than eight me­tres, which has since be­come sec­ond na­ture.

Leap­ing to his maiden na­tional ti­tle in Stel­len­bosch last year with a per­sonal best of 8.38m, all the signs pointed to a stel­lar 2015 for Sa­maai.

But a ham­string in­jury had other plans for the ver­ti­cal jumper with a sunny dis­po­si­tion, as it kept him side­lined him for two months.

How­ever, he still man­aged to qual­ify for and com­pete in his first World Cham­pi­onships in Bei­jing, where he failed to ad­vance to the fi­nal.

Con­sis­tency is the great­est weapon in a long jumper’s ar­se­nal, which Sa­maai has proved he has in abun­dance.

He has jumped over eight me­tres out­doors on more than 10 oc­ca­sions this sea­son, suc­cess­fully de­fended his na­tional ti­tle, as well as bagged the con­ti­nen­tal crown for good mea­sure.

The 24-year-old won his first Di­a­mond League gold medal in Ra­bat, Morocco when he equalled his per­sonal best of 8.38m in May.

His 8.40m win­ning jump at the African Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships in Dur­ban last week may not legally count as a new PB as it was a win­das­sisted leap, but still demon­strated his abil­ity to pro­duce the goods when it mat­tered.

Sa­maai was also em­broiled in a tit-for-tat bat­tle with long-time Paarl friend and long-jump foe Luvo Many­onga as they re­sponded to each other’s jumps.

In the end, Sa­maai edged out Many­onga, who had to be con­tent with a sil­ver medal with his best ef­fort of 8.23m.

Win­ning these small lit­tle bat­tles are part of the build­ing blocks to­wards re­al­is­ing his dream of step­ping onto the high­est step of the podium in Rio de Janeiro.

“You don’t go to the Games just to call your­self an Olympian but to re­turn with a medal, so it is my dream to win a medal for my coun­try but I know it will be dif­fi­cult,” Sa­maai said.

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RUSWAHL SA­MAAI: “There were good times and there were bad times.”

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