Johannesburg - Luvo Manyonga won gold at the Shanghai Diamond League competition in China on Saturday, dropping broad hints about who the man to beat in the long jump will be at the upcoming IAAF World Championships.
While the all-South African podium many were hoping for going into this event didn’t quite materialise, Manyonga’s Diamond League record of 8.61m in his last jump was a marvel.
It turned out to be sweet revenge over America’s Olympic gold medallist Jeff Henderson, who beat Manyonga by a mere centimetre to claim the title in Rio de Janeiro with a distance of 8.38m.
Henderson finished sixth on Saturday and his best leap of the day was 58cm shorter than Manyonga’s.
Locals quietly hoped that the decorated trio of Olympic silver medallist Manyonga, former Olympic and world silver medallist Khotso Mokoena and Commonwealth bronze medallist Ruswahl Samaai could fashion a one-two-three at the event.
But yet another astonishing performance this season from Manyonga stole the show, not only in the event, but in the competition as a whole, with Samaai finishing fifth (8.18m) and Mokoena – who is training in Spain these days – in eighth place (7.85m).
This was the third time in a row that Manyonga has jumped more than 8.60m – a sequence in which his previous jumps over that distance were South Africa and Africa records of 8.62m and 8.65m, respectively. Manyonga’s coach, Neil Cornelius, was giddy with excitement over what this means for the rest of the season leading to the IAAF World Championships in London in August.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “The goal was to get a bit of revenge and to send out a message about what the South African guys can do. That jump was the furthest so far jumped by a South African overseas.
“The last time someone jumped more than 8.60m was in 2009 [when former Olympic gold and multiple world champion Dwight Phillips, and former Olympic and world champion Irving Saladino cleared the distance] and Luvo has now done it three times in a row".
The revenge Cornelius alluded to was the showdown against Henderson. On a day in which seven of the 55 men who have cleared 8.40m in the history of the long jump participated, a major battle didn’t materialise as Henderson was off his game.
As excited as Cornelius was with his charge’s performance, he was like most coaches – only too happy to criticise: “I was happy they showed the last jump on TV because it showed what we need to work on.
“He was drifting a bit to the right in his last jump and rushing his take-off, but these are small things to work on and our overall plan is succeeding. The fact that he’s got the ability to pull off a big jump in the last round shows that he’s got it”.
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Cornelius said Manyonga had three Diamond League jumps before the World Championship...the first of which is in Rome on June 8.
“Over the next few competitions, we’re going to work on the things we need to focus on, but there’s still so much left in the kid,” said Cornelius. “The fact that his average jumps are 8.60m means the big one is still coming”.
Earlier in the competition, veteran 400m hurdler LJ van Zyl put in another unobtrusive but steadily improved performance, finishing second to American Bershawn Jackson in 49.35 seconds.
Van Zyl only made his move in the final straight and slightly improved last week’s time in Doha – 49.49 seconds. While running in the 49-second range is an unwelcome sight for the sub-48 second South African record holder, it may well be that he is on track to peaking when it matters.