Luvo Manyonga won the Diamond League LJ on Thursday night. The story was sent last night before he headed to Brussels, but, alas, his editor (moi) fell asleep on the sofa of my farm house in Wisconsin. Sorry for the delay.
No one could say that Luvo Manyonga (South Africa) was not a worthy Diamond League long jump champion in 2018. He won three of the four Diamond League events – Shanghai, Rome and London – and won tonight’s final. Juan Miguel Echevarria (Cuba), who has the world’s longest jump of the year -8.68 was not in the field tonight. (Echevarria also jumped 8.83 to win the Stockholm Diamond League meet but that jump was with the aid of an illegal wind).
Manyonga won in Zurich with a series of 8.32m, 8.17m, 8.25m, 8.13m and 8.36m – and one pass. He was tied with fellow South African, Rushwahl Samaai, on 8.3m before finding the winning jump in the final round. He said of tonight’s performance: “I am quite happy. My winning shows that I am still in good shape. Coming back into great atmosphere with these fans means so much to me”.
Earlier in the week he explained to me his approach to competition. He said: “I see the first jump as the main jump and you have to make sure that you get it right. If you can get 8.50 with your first jump, the competition is in your hands. I always want my first jump to be the best one. If I get the first jump in, I can enjoy the rest of the competition”. Even a foul in the first round will not faze him: “No, I don’t want to put myself under pressure; it’s about focusing on fixing it and getting in a safe jump”.r
Growing up in a sporty family – his dad played rugby and his mom played netball (a game like basketball) and was also a sprinter – he said that sport was such a family thing that it was inevitable that he would get involved. However, he did not start track and field until he was 16.
“I was doing different events like sprints and high jump”, he explains, “but when I first tried long jump, I fell in love with it. I liked that you get several chances and I enjoyed jumping into the sand”.
He relishes the competition with Echevarria, saying: “It’s great to have a duel in sport, not just one person performing. It makes it more exciting that there is a competition. I’m quite excited at the prospect of competing with him again in the future. And it’s good to have someone else who is battling for that nine meter barrier”.
I suggested that winning silver in the Rio Olympics was where he announced himself to the world. He agreed but with a caveat: “Definitely but before that I had been world junior champion, so I had had that recognition. Then for a couple of years I was not available for sport. But on my return to sport I won the silver medal in Rio. So that’s where it all started. Becoming world champion in London was the biggest highlight of my life. That I was the first South African world champion in long jump made it more special”.
World champion and Diamond League champion he may be, but he is not resting on his laurels. He confirmed that he has unfulfilled ambitions: “Jumping 9.00m is definitely one of the ambitions I have. I want to tick as many things as I can on my bucket list. I want to have a beautiful profile when I retire from athletics, and want people to remember me as the best long jumper in the world”.
Like him, we can look forward to the renewed rivalry with Echevarria and others next year.