No distance too far for stellar Samaai
Isn’t going to Brazil just to call himself an Olympian ...
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.
RUSWAHL SAMAAI: “There were good times and there were bad times.”