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Manyonga’s golden moment

Not even niggling injuries could stop long-jumper Luvo Manyonga soaring to South Africa’s first gold medal at the 13th IAAF World Junior Athletics Championships in Moncton, Canada on Thursday.

The Boland star saved his best for last before producing a final leap of 7.99 metres to trump Spain’s Eusebio Caceres who had jumped 7.90m in his final jump. That left the Stellenbosch youngster knowing exactly what he had to do for victory and he was certainly not found wanting.

Wearing green and gold vest No 744, the lanky youngster gave it his all, punching the air in delight once he realised what he had done.

And as promised, Team South Africa dedicated the medal to Caster Semenya, the world 800m champion having recently been cleared to return to competition after 11 months on the sideline as the sports governing body attempted to sort out a speculation over her gender.

ÔÇ£I dedicate this gold medal to Caster Semenya’s return to international athletics,ÔÇØ said a beaming Manyonga afterwards. ÔÇ£It’s great that she is back in competition and I look forward to seeing her clock some great times in the months ahead.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£I wasn’t going to settle for the silver medal,ÔÇØ he remarked. ÔÇ£I have been battling a bit with my left knee but I put it right out of my mind to get through to the win.ÔÇØ

Caceres’s 7.90m was good for silver and Canadian Taylor Steward took bronze with a 7.63m jump.

In the post-race IAAF interview Manyonga said the wind was unsettling. “I’ve jumped over 8m a few times. But not with wind like this.” And on hearing vuvuzelas trumpeting around the stadium? “That reminds me of back home in South Africa, where people are crazy about the vuvuzela. I thought, ‘That’s the sound that says a South African has won.’ It made me feel good.”

Smith’s coach Mario Smith will be broader than the North American continent after his charge struck gold.

Stellenbosch based Smith immediately realised Manyonga had the so-called X-Factor when he first saw him jumping in a schools meeting at Coetzenberg Stadium early in 2009. “He had no coach, just a teacher who helped him┬á a bit and he used to come through from Mbekweni near Wellington three times a week.”

Smith has since truly taken Manyonga under his wing and the 19-year-old now lives with Smith in Stellenbosch. “He is potentially one of South Africa’s true athletics greats. He’s easily as good as former national long jump champions Francois Fouche and Felix Coetzee. He has enormous talent.”

One of Smith’s goals for the slender athlete (he stands 1.85 and only weighs 65kg) was to break Olympic silver medallist Khotso Mokoena’s SA junior mark of 8.09m sometime during 2009 and already the youngster has smashed that mark by 10cm in Germany earlier this month for a personal best of 8.19m. Clearly the targets will need re-evaluating now.

Manyonga’s gold came after less than an hour after North West University javelin star Tazmin Brits collected a bronze with an evening best of 54.55 on her fourth throw.┬á ÔÇ£I had been nursing my arm throughout the week but after three throws, I realised that I had to look for the big one,ÔÇØ said Brits.

Of the other athletes in action on the third day of competition, Gauteng-based Waide Jooste produced a quality third-place finish in his 100 m semi-final, and was unlucky to be eliminated with a time of 10.72, while Free State speedster Gideon Trotter’s time of 10.76 saw him finish sixth in the first semi-final.

There was no luck either for Smith’s other Stellenbosch-based athlete Shaun de Jager (47.47) and Afrikaans Seuns Hoerkskool pupil Jacques de Swardt (47.98), who were both eliminated in the semi-finals of the 400 m. In the morning session, Le Roux Hamman (52.66) and Free State’s Pieter Marx (52.89) were eliminated from the competition in the 400m heats.

Mark Etheridge