Luvo Manyonga conquered his drug addiction and then all but one of the world’s best long-jumpers as he won South Africa’s sixth medal of the Rio Olympics‚ a silver in the long jump.
His 8.37m personal best seemed set to take the gold medal‚ but then American Jeff Henderson sailed one centimetre further to steal the victory on his final jump.
Defending champion Greg Rutherford‚ also the world champion‚ was third on 8.29m.
“It [the gold] was here‚ bra‚” a beaming Manyonga said‚ displaying his palm.
“It was in my hand and then that guy‚ vwoop‚ took it.”
Manyonga‚ the 2010 world junior long-jump champion‚ was banned for 18 months in 2012 after testing positive for tik.
Former swimmer Ryk Neethling knew him when he was at his lowest point‚ and believed Manyonga was close to death at that stage.
With help of various people‚ including SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) president Gideon Sam‚ they plucked Manyonga from his surroundings at Mbekweni‚ outside Paarl‚ and based him at the University of Pretoria’s High Performance Centre in 2014.
“I’ve risen from my demons‚” Manyonga said.
“They’ve been trying for years to pull me down‚ but now I made it‚ hey.”
Coach Neil Cornelius‚ at 28 just three years older than the jumper‚ described Manyonga’s rise from despair as a Cinderella story.
“He’s turned himself into something he can be proud of.”
The key in the competition had been the first of his six jumps‚ where he went 8.16m‚ which was good enough to keep him in the competition after the bottom four — including countryman Ruswahl Samaai — were eliminated after the first three jumps.
“It motivated me‚ that’s what we said‚ me and my coach‚ we have to take the first jump‚ to buy the five jumps‚” said Manyonga.
“So I was relaxed because I had more jumps to go.”
Manyonga no-jumped his second and third attempts‚ and then launched himself to 8.28m on his fourth go‚ just 2cm short of his previous personal best‚ to take the lead.
“I didn’t even land properly when I did [that] and I knew there’s more.”
The 8.38m came on the next jump.
Manyonga was eager to phone home. “I’m calling my mom [Joyce] and my son [Lindokuhle] and then the rest.”
— TMG Digital