Manyonga aiming at a golden jump in Rome
Luvo Manyonga jumped 8.56m in rainy and humid weather conditions to beat the Chinese jumper Yuhao Shi, who narrowly missed the Chinese record before being stretchered off the track after an unlucky landing. Manyonga has already shown his great form at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, where he won the gold medal with 8.41m holding off the assault of another Australian “kangaroo” Henry Frayne, who jumped 8.33m.
“I am more and more convinced that I can break the world record and that I can become the first man to jump over the 9 metres barrier. I have something special in my legs and I believe that it’s time that the spotlight will shift from the track events to the field competitions”, said the South African star, who was born in the same year of the Big Marvel, the world final in Tokyo, where Mike Powell jumped 8.95m beating Carl Lewis (second with a wind-assisted 8.91m and a legal 8.87m). Beamon’s world record was broken after a quarter of century.
Luvo set a personal best of 8.65m on the verge of the world all-time top-ten list and won the world and the Commonwealth titles, the olympic silver medal, the world indoor silver medal in Birmingham, where he was beaten by another Golden Gala star Juan Miguel Echevarria, a pearl found in the oyster of Cuba, who will turn 20 years next August. The Birmingham world indoor championships produced another thrilling final where Echevarria won the gold medal with 8.46m beating Manyonga (silver with 8.44m) and Marquis Dendy (third with 8.42m).
Luvo has a story, which deserves to be told by the man, who gave him a help. “I told him: If you are ready to walk down a path, I will be by your side”, but I knew that the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job would have been necessary. John McGrath, an Irish giant, a former strongman, who bent bars of steel and broke chains in all parts of the world, took under his powerful wings a drug-addicted from Mbekweni, the township of Paarl in the Province of Cape Town. The strange pair has worked, and this is movie stuff.
“I was born in 1991, the same year Mike Powell set the world record. I consider it as a sign of destiny. It will be my turn to break it. This record is calling for me and I am hungry: those, who come out of the darkness of the night and walk down the path of redemption, feel that they have the strength within themselves”.
It is the case of this xhosa man, like Nelson Mandela, who grew up in one of the many townships, where poverty, violence and drug mix a lethal cocktail. He consumed crystal meth, like many of his friends. In 2012 he was disqualified for 18 months. “The only thing I was able to say was that I did it as a vice and not to enhance my performances”.
The life of John McGrath was not easy either. He was bullied at school (“I got burned with cygarettes on my chest”), he rebelled and became an expert of martial arts (Do Ju Nim, the teacher of Bruce Lee, was among his gurus). He became a rower (I rowed with guys who were studying to become laywers or engineers) and ended up bending iron bars and breaking out of steel chains at the Funfair in Coney Island, and after a long wandering, he accepted a job as a street-sweeper in Waterford. He was 2.00m tall and 120 kg sweeper.
He arrived in South Africa by chance during a holiday with a girl. He did not go back and started running a gym in Paarl. He heard people were talking about Luvo, who had won the 2010 World under 20 Championships, finished fifth at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu and had won a good sum of money, which would have been helpful. At home family went ahead only with the money earned by his mother Joyce, who worked as housewife. However, he wasted everything. It happens to those who end up in drug addiction
“I heard about Luvo, I met him, I talked with him clearly and I realized that it would not have been easy”, said John, who asked to have a meeting the officials of the South African Sports Confederation.
“I would like to help Manyonga be back on his feet”, I said. They told me: “You would never dream of working with him. He is disqualified". Pastor Eugene Maquelen, who knew well the township, the mechanism, which rule it and its people, gave him support. John learnt a lot about strength and trainining, diet, but he knew little about long jumping techique. “I did not know anything about shoes. I gave Luvo a pair of shoes, but they were not long jump ones. He jumped 8.10m but we could not continue working together”.
Luvo started working again with Mario Smith, who had been his coach at the start of his jumping career. However, Mario died four years ago in a road accident, as he was going to train Luvo. The shock and the grief were devastating, but McGrath does never give up and managed to get his protegé admit to the High Performance Center in Pretoria, which made a good deal. “I found the hope again and I am ready to jump far”.