Luvo Manyonga winning a silver medal in the long jump at the Olympic Games in Rio on Sunday morning was a 'fairy tale' come true. He jumped a personal best distance of 8,37 metres.
Moments after the long jump competition a jubilant Manyonga said: 'I have beaten my demons. They have tried all these years to bring me down but now I have made it.'
His reference to personal demons was far from frivolous. In 2012, at the South African Championships, his career suddenly spiralled out of control when an announcement was made that he had tested positive for 'TIK' (methamphetamine) and was banned for two years. To make matters worse, his long-time coach Mario Smit died in a car accident in 2014, just at the time when Manyonga was making his comeback.
Instead of giving up on life and feeling sorry for himself however, Manyonga decided to make something of his life.
'I can do nothing to undo the past. It is what happens tomorrow that is important,' Manyonga said.
The Tuks/hpc athlete certainly made the most of 'tomorrow' when he launched himself into the air in the fourth round to take the lead with an impressive jump of 8,28 metres. But the best was yet to come. On his fifth attempt, he jumped a personal best of 8,37 metres.
The drama was not over, however, as Jeff Henderson (USA), on his last attempt, jumped 8,38 metres to snatch the gold medal from the South African by one centimetre.
Manyonga and his coach Neil Cornelius had a quick scare when Jarrion Lawson (USA) landed in the sandpit on his last jump. It looked like a massive effort but, unfortunately for the American, his left arm dropped way back. This cost him valuable centimetres and he remained in fourth place. The 2012 Olympic champion Greg Rutherford made sure he won the bronze medal by jumping 8,29 metres on his last attempt.
The Tuks/hpc athlete stuck to the principle of making his first jump count. He is fond of saying: 'With a good first attempt you "buy" five more jumps.'
According to Manyonga, winning an Olympic silver medal was a process. 'I made a list of goals and posted them on a wall where I could look at them every day as a sort of reminder. As I reached each small goal, I ticked it off until nothing remained. Then I made a new list and continued ticking off the items. The last tick was winning the medal.'
Cornelius described Manyonga's silver performance as unbelievable. 'To be totally honest, at the moment it all still feels unreal. As a coach, I could not have asked for a more fantastic Olympic experience for Luvo. If ever there was an athlete who deserved to medal, it is Luvo. Over the last few weeks he has been totally committed and it made me realise that something great was in the making,' he said. Cornelius nearly missed the long jump final as the driver who was meant to bring him to the stadium got lost, which meant that Cornelius had to hail a taxi. By the time he arrived at the track, Manyonga was already measuring out his approach.
When asked if he had any advice for youngsters who might consider experimenting with 'TIK', Manyonga's response was: 'Don't do it! It is not worth it. I can honestly say that I hit rock bottom and my life was a living hell after I was banned for using a banned substance. I used to have regrets and there were many days when I wished I had not given in to the temptation, but I realised that blaming myself for what had happened did not serve any purpose. It is defeatist and only made me unhappy.'