When an athlete misses out on an Olympic gold medal by one centimetre – especially after leading at the business end of a competition – you might expect him to be disappointed.
But 25-year-old Luvo Manyonga was absolutely buzzing after winning silver in the long jump at the Olympic Stadium in Rio on Saturday night.
Manyonga took the lead with his fourth attempt when he jumped 8.28m, and then when he bettered that to 8.37m with his fifth attempt it looked like Team South Africa was on course for its first gold medal of the 2016 Olympics.
Manyonga bailed on his final effort, but he still had the lead. American Jeff Henderson took gold with his final effort of the night – an 8.38m effort.
It was heartbreaking for South Africans, but Manyonga’s smile and celebration quickly lifted the spirits.
“It was here,” Manyonga joked while pointing at his left hand with his right, referring to the gold medal. “It was in my hand and then that guy (Henderson) just took it.”
Manyonga’s story is incredible. In 2012 he was banned for 18 months after traces of methamphetamine (tik) were found in his system.
Manyonga has since been open on his battles with substance abuse and confirmed that he was close to death at one stage.
But the intervention of those close to him – notably Olympic champion swimmer Ryk Neethling and Sascoc president Gideon Sam – helped get him out of a deep, dark and dangerous place.
That he had made it to Rio was a fairy tale in itself, but that he secured an unexpected medal makes the story that much more touching.
“I have risen from my demons … they’ve been trying for years to pull me down, but now I made it,” Manyonga said.
“My life already changed before I came here … this is just a bonus. I can’t even describe it … just look at my face.”
The Capetonian dedicated his medal to his five-year-old son Lindokuhle, his mom Joyce and Sam. “I’m calling my mom and my son first and then the rest,” he said. “My son is sleeping now.”
Manyonga said he was not disappointed at missing out on gold – the joy of an Olympic medal greater than anything – but he was far from done. “I’m looking for a world record,” he said.