Sport helped me beat drug addiction, says Olympic long jumper

Lizzie Edmonds
Evening Standard
Luvo Manyonga in a photoshoot in South Africa: David Harrison
Luvo Manyonga in a photoshoot in South Africa: David Harrison

Olympian Luvo Manyonga has spoken of the power of sport in helping him fight back from drug addiction to become long jump world champion.

The 27-year-old South African said sport had been very important in his life, especially as it “gave him something” during the depths of his addiction to tik, a variant of methamphetamine.

Manyonga was born in a township in Paarl, a city near Cape Town. As a child, he was spotted during a track and field event, and local coach Mario Smith developed his talent. In 2010, aged 19, he won gold at the World Junior Athletics Championships.

But in 2012 he was banned from competition for two years after he tested positive for tik and went into rehab after admitting he was addicted to the drug. He returned to competition four years later, and in the past 12 months has won the World and Commonwealth titles.

Manyonga on his way to winning the gold medal at the World Championships in London last year (Getty Images)
Manyonga on his way to winning the gold medal at the World Championships in London last year (Getty Images)

Speaking to the Standard, the athlete, who is now based in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, said his life could have turned out differently if it had not been for athletics.

“Sport has been very important to me and to my life,” he said. “It got me through my troubles. It got me on to a different path. It got me out of the townships. I am so grateful for that.”

He said that while those facing drug problems must want change in order to beat addictions, athletics gave him a focus in his darkest times. “It is down to the person to make a change. They have to really want it. Then they can change their life, but for me sport helped me through. It gave me something. I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for sport.”

On his return to competition two years ago, Manyonga won the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, an achievement he said was one of the proudest moments of his life. He added: “It is the biggest competition and only every four years. I felt very emotional. I had fought hard to get there. It was a really great experience.”

Last year at the 2017 World Championships in London, the star won gold with a jump of 8.48 metres, and just months later he became the 2018 Commonwealth Games champion in the Gold Coast in Australia.

The athlete said London held “good memories” for him and he applauded the spectators for getting behind all the competitors, regardless of where they were from.

“I have great, great memories of the stadium,” he said. “It was overwhelming and really exciting. The support that the crowd gave all teams, it is nothing like the soccer World Cup right now. There is a togetherness. The fans are not against each other.”

He said there was one thing he liked in particular about competing in the capital: “I like the accent, the way they pronounce things. I like it. I want to learn how to pronounce things like that. I don’t do a good accent, no. Maybe one day I will learn.”

Manyonga was speaking ahead of the Müller Anniversary Games, which will take place in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park next month. He said he would use his winning streak in his bid for another victory. He said: “I am excited for the competition. I will definitely use that win [Commonwealth Gold]. I will use it to give it my best shot at the competition.”

  • The Müller Anniversary Games will feature the world’s biggest athletics stars at the London Stadium on July 21-22. Tickets via britishathletics.org.uk

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