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Former addict Manyonga eyes world long jump record

AFP logoAFP 2017-04-21
Luvo Manyonga has bounced back from near death through methamphetamine addiction to become a sporting star in his native South Africa © Provided by AFP Luvo Manyonga has bounced back from near death through methamphetamine addiction to become a sporting star in his native South Africa

Rio Olympic Games silver medalist and former drug addict Luvo Manyonga of South Africa has his sights set on smashing the 26-year-old long jump world record of American Mike Powell.

A leap of 8.95 metres by Powell in Tokyo during 1991 set a benchmark no rival has surpassed.

"My dream is to become the first athlete to jump over nine metres," Manyonga told AFP as he prepared for the national athletics championships this weekend.

The self-confessed former methamphetamine user broke the South African and African records by jumping 8.62m at a regional meet in Pretoria last month.

That leap was 12 centimetres longer than the previous best set by another South African, Khotso Mokoena, eight years ago in Madrid.

It was also the longest jump in the world since 2009 and matched the 12th best of all time.

Long jumper Mike Powell's record jump of 8.95 metres, set in Tokyo, has gone unchallenged for 26 years © Provided by AFP Long jumper Mike Powell's record jump of 8.95 metres, set in Tokyo, has gone unchallenged for 26 years

But as Manyonga gets set for the long jump event in northwest university town Potchefstroom, he has the world mark on his mind.

"The world record has been a goal of mine even before I started jumping competitively," he said.

"It has been too long since anyone came close to jumping nine metres and I am capable of leaping much further than my record in Pretoria.

"I cannot say when my dream will come true but no record should last forever," he added, referring to the lengthy reign of Powell.

His coach, Neil Cornelius, was stunned by the Pretoria leap that brought Manyonga the national and African records.

"I believed Luvo was going to overtake Khotso, but just by a centimetre or two. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine he would do so by 12 centimetres."

A former coach of Manyonga, now deceased Mario Smith, said the athlete had "the most perfect technique I have ever seen in a long jumper".

Manyonga was a 2010 world junior champion and finished one centimetre behind American Jeff Henderson in the contest for the 2016 Rio Games long jump gold.

But his current status as a South African sporting star is a far cry from where the 26-year-old used to be.

"I was within touching distance of death," he said, recalling his addiction to methamphetamine, known as "tik" in South Africa.

Life amid crime and poverty in the Western Cape township of Mbekweni was a daily struggle for survival.

Manyonga, like many other inhabitants, succumbed to drugs, seeking a release from the daily hardships.

Luckily, there were people who believed in him and his sporting prowess.

Men like Smith, his first coach, and South African Olympic body chief Gideon Sam, whose search for a long jump star took him to Manyonga.

"I was not impressed at first as Luvo arrived more than two hours late for a meeting," recalled the official.

Sam gave the athlete a tongue lashing, and Manyonga admits it was a turning point in his battle with drugs.

"When I arise every morning I think about where I would be were it not for those who believed in me during my darkest days."

Suspended in 2012 for 18 months after failing a routine test, the long jumper believes he is winning the war against drugs.

Based in Pretoria, Manyonga is in an aftercare programme as part of his rehabilitation that began before the Rio Games.

"Luvo was tested immediately after his record jump in Pretoria," said his agent, Lee-Roy Newton.

"He has been clean since he was in the rehabilitation programme last year."

Sam lauds the role played by Newton.

"We have allowed Lee-Roy to take complete control of the future of Luvo. He is doing a great job in helping him focus on what he goes best -- the long jump."

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