Long jump to glory for star township athletes
Manyonga and Samaai hope their world championships medals will inspire youngsters
London — Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai hope their lengthy journeys from poverty and despair to long-jump glory in London will inspire youngsters.
At the world championships on Saturday night, Manyonga, 26, floated to gold with his second leap of 8.48m, while Samaai, 25, claimed the bronze on 8.32m.
"Luvo [was] a drug addict," said Samaai. "He just came back and he just won a frickin’ gold medal at the world champs, so that’s an amazing story for him.
"I had to walk 10km to the track and back each and every single day [to train]. So, what doesn’t motivate you from this?
"Now both of us are standing on a podium, not just for ourselves, but representing each and every single person who’s [been] through the same circumstances that we went through," he said.
Olympic silver medallist Manyonga, who grew up in Mbekweni, Paarl, won the world under-20 championships in 2010 and ended fifth at his maiden senior showpiece the following year.
We’re from Western Cape, we’re from Paarl. We were representing not just ourselves, we were representing so many people [who] believe in us and so many … kids who [are] looking for an escape
He tested positive for tik in 2012 and was banned for 18 months. That was when his real battle came, succumbing to an addiction so bad those around him feared he would die. He went clean about two years ago, but the Pretoria-based star still lives in a rehabilitation facility.
Samaai’s Amstelhof neighbourhood was ruled by gangsters, but his talent was so obvious, even they encouraged him.
Born less than 10 months apart in different townships around Paarl, Samaai and Manyonga first met as teenage rivals on the athletics track about a decade ago.
"Both of us were triple jumpers at first before getting into the long jump," recalled Samaai. "I used to beat him in the triple jump, actually," he added.
Samaai believes he and Manyonga can inspire others to follow their dreams.
"We’re from Western Cape, we’re from Paarl. We were representing not just ourselves, we were representing so many people [who] believe in us and so many … kids who [are] looking for an escape.
"This can be their escape, saying, ‘If these guys can do it, we can also do it’. They just have to step up to their ability and get the support and just make it."
Manyonga agreed. "I just want to tell the country and my people following me, they must just go out there and show the world who they are.
"It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the moment, they must just believe in God."
The duo, who knelt in prayer on the track straight after the competition ended, had arrived in London as the top-two seeds.
Silver medallist Jarrion Lawson of the US was third.
Now Manyonga and Samaai want to assert their dominance globally. Both believe they are capable of breaking American Mike Powell’s 8.95m world record set in 1991.
"I want to get so much more in my bag. I want to get my bag full," said Manyonga, who set his 8.65m personal best at the national championships in April. Samaai did his 8.49m best in the same competition.
"This is the beginning of something great, and let’s hope this is going to carry forward, not just for the two of us, but also for the juniors [under-20] and the youth [under-18] [who have] been doing well," Samaai said.
"Let’s hope they’re going to get the support [needed]."