South African long jumper Luvo Manyonga, 26, has lifted himself from the lowest of lows of drug addiction to the top of the world. It wasn’t the performance-enhancing sort, but the deadly addictive “tik”, the local variant of crystal methamphetamine widely abused in the townships around Mbekweni, in the Western Cape of South Africa.
Five years ago, Manyonga reckoned he was about “five per cent away from death”, such was his addiction to the drug and the downward spiralling of his once-promising athletic career. He was World Junior long jump champion in 2010, finished fifth at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu at the age of 20, but once back in his community he fell into addiction and spent his winnings on his own drug use and that of those around him. In 2012, instead of competing at the London Olympics, he was serving an 18-month ban after testing positive for crystal methamphetamine, one of several recreational drugs on the banned list.
Fast-forward four years and Manyonga’s incredible achievements start to become apparent. At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, he seemed a world away from his drug-addicted past as he stepped on the podium once more, winning the long jump silver medal.
At this year’s World Athletics Championships in London, Manyonga went one better, winning the gold medal with a jump of 8.48m. After his final attempt, he fell back into the sandpit and made an angel imprint. “This gold medal makes me feel over the moon,” said Manyonga. “I have been praying to get this gold medal, the world record is my next goal.” Given the determination he has shown in the past, Manyonga may well achieve that goal in the future.