When I finally speak with Olympic silver medalist Luvo Manyonga yesterday in the late afternoon, he sounds grateful but tired. He is wearing his South African Olympics tracksuit, with his shades on, just eager to get home. Our interview is over Skype as he waits for his boarding flight back to South Africa at the Rio airport. On Saturday Luvo (25) won second place in the long-jump final, just 2cm from the gold winner.
Luvo is looking forward to going home, he tells me. What he is also looking forward to is focusing on his future, and hopes that the media will leave his past and drug addiction behind. “It’s part of me (the drug addiction) because I did it at the time, but people use it all the time and I don’t really like it. It’s old now. It’s not me anymore either; I don’t want people focusing on that only.”
What Luvo says he wants to concentrate on is building his family name’s legacy. He has a cousin who performs for Joyous Celebration, he says proudly, and he wants to inspire his 5-year-old son, Lindokuhle, to also strive for greatness. To live up to the family name.
“I wanted gold, but this is not the end of the road”
Luvo knows the power of new starts, in both his personal and professional life. “When you are in the Olympics, everyone is at the same level. We all have talent.” The change happens, says Luvo, when they cross the line. Only then is there a winner. “In the beginning, we are all given a fair chance.”
This must have been the thought that pushed him towards his Olympic silver medal. He went into the Olympics with no specific strategy. “My only game plan going in was to jump and have fun in the process. I wanted gold, but this is not the end of the road. I still have the World Championships next year, so there’s more to achieve.”
Luvo says he has been surrounded by positive people throughout his journey to Rio. “Everyone believes in my talent and are proud of me. My roommate was Khotso Mokoena. He kept on telling me that he believes in me and he is proud of my talent. We kept pushing each other.”
The love and celebration is overwhelming, says Luvo. “All the messages and friend requests I have to respond to, because if I don’t, I will seem like a bad person.” The attention, says Luvo laughing shyly with his hands on his head, gets too much for him. As he waits at the Rio airport having a moment of peace, I wonder if he is aware that his old high school in eMbekweni, in Paarl, has been marching around the streets with banners of his name. “When I get home I’m going to call my mom and my sister and just chat with them. I’m going to relax. What I’m more excited about is relaxing and eating iskopo and amanqina.”
Watch Luvo leap to silver below.