In what many are calling the athletic comeback of the year, a former tikkop has clinched a silver medal at the Olympic Games.
Just one centimetre stood between Paarl athlete Luvo Manyonga and Olympic gold in the last round of the dramatic long jump final in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday night.
In the fourth round, Manyonga improved on his personal best jump by seven centimetres with a giant leap of 8.37m, to become the second South African long jumper behind Khotso Mokoena to win the Olympic silver.
But his dream of gold was ended by American Jeff Henderson, who beat him by one centimetre to claim the title.
Realising he got the silver, Manyonga, wrapped in a South African flag, leaped around in delight.
The gifted 25-year-old has turned his life around, proving that there is life after drug addiction.
Manyonga made his comeback earlier this year after a four-year time-out.
The 2010 world junior champion missed the 2012 London Games after he tested positive for tik and was slapped with an 18-month ban.
“I have risen from my demons. They’ve been trying to pull me down for many years, but now I’ve made it,” Manyonga said after his Olympic heroics.
“This is just a bonus, my life already changed before I came here.”
It is a heart-warming outcome for Manyonga, as just a few years ago, he battled drug addiction while living in the Mbekweni township just outside Paarl.
He also lost his long-time coach Mario Smith in a car accident just when he was plotting his comeback.
But he was assisted by Sascoc and relocated to Pretoria in 2015 to be based at the high-performance centre of the University of Pretoria, and qualified for Rio with a new personal best of 8.30m in March this year.
“I’m going to call my mom Joyce, and then my son Lindokuhle, and then the rest,” Manyonga added.
“It was here (the gold medal), in my hand, then the guy just went ‘schloop’, and took it.”
His ecstatic coach Neil Cornelius said it’s been a hell of a ride.
“I say to people it is like the first time getting into a Ferrari. You are a little bit afraid, but you have this big smile on your face and you just want to go fast,” he says.