Manyonga and Samaai rise above their circumstances
A boyhood rivalry reached a fantastic crescendo as Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai shared a podium at the pinnacle of their sport at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Manyonga produced a brilliant gold-medal performance with Samaai playing a supporting role in a glittering South African performance winning the bronze medal at the World Championships on Saturday.
It was a “super Saturday” for South Afirican track and field as Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai claimed the country’s first double-medal haul in the same final at the global showpiece.
“Luvo was a drug addict, he just came back and won a freaking gold medal at the world championships and that is an amazing story, I had to walk 10 kilometres to the track and back every single day,” Samaai said.
“So what wouldn’t motivate you from this, and now both of us are sending on the podium not just representing ourselves but each and every person in the same circumstances we came through.”
Manyonga and Samaai grew up 10 kilometres from each other in Paarl, and the long jump provided the escape route from an environment surrounded by drugs and gang-related violence.
On the one end Samaai had to navigate the harsh realities of life in Amstelhof while Manyonga was faced the same life in Mbekweni.
Samaai dedicated Saturday night double haul to the kids with the odds stacked against them but dare to dream.
“We represent so many people that believe in us and so many children out there that is looking for an escape,” Samaai said.
“This can represent their escape, if these guys can do it then we can also do it they just have to step up to their ability.”
For Manyonga, the victory meant he could finally close the book on a past that has been haunting him since 2012 when he received an 18-month ban for the use of a recreational drug.
“I feel awesome, it is a great feeling to be the world champion, now I don’t think about what happened in the past I jus think about tomorrow,” Manyonga said.
“Let’s rejoice what is going on now, I am the world champion and what happened yesterday doesn’t matter.”
Manyonga produced his winning jump of 8.48 metres on his second attempt but had flashes of déjà vu from the Rio Olympic Games where he missed out on the title by one centimetre.
“It was very emotional, and memories of last year came back into my mind and I was thinking what happened in Rio was going to happen again,” he said.
“But thank God it didn’t happen at these championships.”
As the competition progressed American horizontal jumper Jarrion Lawson, who chipped away at Manyonga’s lead but his final leap of 8.44m was only good enough for the silver.
Ruswahl had an equally nervy progression on the night as he slipped to fourth place despite opening with a good jump of 8.25m.
Two red flags added to his nerves but Samaai got his hand on the bronze on his fifth attempt with a jump of 8.27m before securing the third place with a final leap of 8.32m.