Luvo Manyonga became an Olympic medalist on Saturday night. Just two years ago, some would not believe that he would still be alive today. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER
If you had asked Luvo Manyonga’s friends and family two years ago where they saw the now 25-year-old in 2016, some might have replied: “dead.”
On Saturday night, the prodigal son lived up to the potential he had shown during his junior career. On the biggest stage in the world, it was the biggest performance of his life. And if this was anything to go by, the best is yet to come.
In the hotly contested
Four years ago, Manyonga’s life was in near ruins. He has said that he was ten or maybe even five percent away from death. He was on regular dates with the devil in the shape of a lightbulb and white crystals. The devil’s name was meth.
Having emerged as a young star during the 2010 IAAF Junior World Championships, where he won a gold medal, the gifted athlete has overcome addiction to represent his country at the Rio Olympics.
Like so many other inspirational stories, his begins in an obscure township which nobody would have heard of or cared about had an athlete of his stature not emerged from there. Mbekweni is a growing township on the outskirts of Paarl which cuts a stark contrast to the opulence of the Boland town known for producing some of South Africa’s rugby greats.
In Mbekweni, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you have achieved. The drugs, the
Fortunately for him, there are still a few good people in South African sport, but the journey to here has not been easy.
The long jumper was first spotted by coach Mario Smith around 2009. Smith had reportedly described Manyonga’s technique as “
As Manyonga started winning – and the money started rolling in – so his life started to unravel. His rewards only added more pressure on the burgeoning star. Friends and family relied on him financially to the point where Smith started to support Manyonga’s family at his own expense. All Smith wanted was for Manyonga to do what he was born to do: jump.
But the reality of places like Mbekweni is that it will snuff out every light as soon as it starts to shine. By 2012, Manyonga had tested positive for
The ban was set at 18 months, slightly reduced from the standard two-year exclusion. It would be a long road back from here and the 25-year old very nearly didn’t get on that path.
By 2014, Manyonga’s relationship with Smith became frayed and the drug – or the devil as the athlete now calls
For what seemed the umpteenth time in his life, Manyonga was knocked down.
But while one dark force was trying to bury Manyonga’s talent, another was trying to make it shine. In that same year, the long jumper had started to work with John McGrath, an Irish
Manyonga is extremely lucky. But he also deserves immense credit. Breaking a deal with the lightbulb devil is not easy. Even if that deal promises a fresh start and a route of hell, it’s always easier to say you’ll
Eventually, Manyonga would take the first step. With Sascoc’s intervention, which saw him relocate to the country’s
In 2016, after a near
Manyonga often describes jumping as “being in heaven”, somewhere away from this dark planet. Now, South Africans are in heaven with him. DM
Photo: Luvo Manyonga of South Africa competes in the men’s long jump final at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, September 2, 2011. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski