Never mind his tall frame, it is Luvo Manyonga’s free-spiritedness that makes him a standout among the crowds.
The SA star long jumper lent his support at the Spar Netball Championships when I bumped into the world champion at the tournament at Young Park this week.
It’s been nine months since the 27-year-old relocated from Pretoria to Port Elizabeth, his ancestral home. He oozes happiness. “Life has been good to me in PE [Port Elizabeth]. You can go about your business here without anyone invading your space,” Manyonga said.
“Also the weather is the best; it’s winter but I am able to train in the morning or during the day.”
He has just wrapped up his preparations for the inaugural IAAF World Cup that runs in London from tomorrow until Sunday.
“I was born in Paarl [Mbekweni township, Western Cape] but Eastern Cape is where my roots are. I went to entabeni [mountains for the rite of passage] here,” Manyonga said proudly, as selfie hunters waited on a scorching Tuesday, with some of the locals reminding him “you are a celebrity now Luvo”.
He is not just the history-maker but a fun-loving athlete whose vibrancy has illuminated world athletics since he overcame his drug addiction and returned to the international scene two years ago.
“The sport has changed my life in a big way,” said the defending Diamond League champion. “The confidence is there and happiness most of all. My life has changed 360 degrees and it gives me goosebumps when I look at the person I am today. I have been working hard to detach from my past.”
Manyonga said it was an “overwhelming feeling” to be ranked among the world’s best athletes. This weekend’s World Cup at the London Stadium forms part of a busy personal schedule that will culminate in the IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in September.
“The World Cup is a homecoming for me because of the fond memories I have in London. I became a world champion in that stadium last year,” said the 2016 Olympics silver medallist.
Manyonga said his three losses won’t have an impact. “I’m a human being after all. In life you win some and lose some. I take losing as the other side of winning; I see it as two sides of the [same] coin. I had to hit the deck and learn something out of it. I can assure my fans that the champ is here to stay. . There’s no pressure going to London, I’ll just have fun and make the fans happy as I always do.”
South Africa, which also has Caster Semenya among the medal favourites, will feature alongside Jamaica, USA, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Poland, China, Germany and France at the event.