Event: Women’s Long Distances Date of birth: 1985/04/09 Personal bests: 800m (2:03.36),...
MANYONGA ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL
Long jump prodigy Luvo Manyonga made a spectacular return to top-flight competition on Saturday, offering the first real indication that he had fully recovered from a four-year battle with recreational drug abuse.
Manyonga produced a leap of 8.20m at a league meeting in Pretoria, running into a 1.5m/s headwind.
The 25-year-old athlete achieved the Olympic qualifying standard of 8.15m and proved he could still be a major force on the international track and field circuit.
“I was hoping that he might jump 8.05 metres. That would have been great,” said Manyonga’s coach, Neil Cornelius.
“To be honest I thought we still had to do some work for him to jump 8.15m and further.”
In 2010, Manyanga had displayed his tremendous potential when he jumped 8.19m to break Khotso Mokoena’s national junior record, earning gold at the World Junior Championships in Moncton.
The following year, in his first season as a senior athlete, he set a personal best of 8.26m and went on to finish fifth in the final at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu.
He vanished from the athletics scene, however, after receiving an 18-month ban when he tested positive for methamphetamine at the 2012 SA Senior Championships.
Having since been locked in an internal war against the drug, commonly known as ‘tik’, Manyonga seemed to be stranded in a troublesome environment at Mbekweni township in the Western Cape.
He was so consumed by the addiction, according to reports, he did not even turn up for the funeral of his former coach and mentor, Mario Smith, after he died in a car accident in June 2014.
Last year, however, Manyonga was given a second chance in a joint initiative between the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) and the Tuks-HPC which placed him in a more conducive environment in Pretoria.
With one big leap at the weekend, he paid back the faith shown in him by sports officials, joining a long list of SA athletes aiming to compete in the long jump at the Rio Olympics, including Zarck Visser, Ruswahl Samaai, Khotso Mokoena and Dylon Cotter.
“After his jump we immediately decided to call it a day because we were just so surprised,” Cornelius said.
“As the coach I was afraid he might get over-eager and try to improve on his jump of 8.20m.
“It is when an athlete tries to force his technique that there is a real risk of him getting injured.
“I was not prepared for him to risk doing that because he had put in a lot of long, hard, dedicated hours to fully recover from an ankle injury.”