JOHANNESBURG – Red-hot flames are expected in the sandpit at the Shanghai Diamond League meeting tomorrow where Luvo Manyonga will face a serious challenge to his long-jump supremacy of the last year.
The South African world champion will face off against Rio Olympic gold medallist Jeff Henderson of the United States.
Add rising Cuban star Juan Miguel Echevarria and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Henry Frayne of Australia and you have a red-hot field.
Henderson and Manyonga have a history thanks to their tussle at the Rio Olympic Games where the American clinched the title on his final leap.
Manyonga held the lead until the final round when Henderson beat him by one centimetre.
Last year’s world championships in London was billed as the great rematch but Henderson battled with form in 2017 and was eliminated in the qualifying round. Manyonga went on to win the world title with a second-round leap of 8.48m.
But the American seems to be returning to his best, leaping to a world lead of 8.44m two weeks ago.
Manyonga has been the form guy over the last year, boasting a winning streak of 12 finals since September 2016.
His perfect season came to an end at this year’s IAAF World Indoor Championships in Birmingham where the teenage Echevarria took the spoils.
Manyonga remains unbeaten in outdoor competition and has added the Commonwealth Games title to his growing list of accolades.
The four-member South African contingent includes Commonwealth Games bronze medallists Sunette Viljoen and Wenda Nel.
Viljoen demonstrated her incredible longevity by winning her fourth consecutive Commonwealth Games medal.
Shanghai will only be her third competition of the season and she will be looking to start firing at her best against a heavyweight field.
She will line up against three women who have landed the javelin at 65 metres or further including world bronze medallist Huihui Lyu of China.
Viljoen’s season’s best of 62.46m may be dwarfed by that of her other competitors but she has the big moment temperament and will count among the medal contenders.
Nel made her big international breakthrough at the Gold Coast Games where she raced to a bronze medal in the one-lap hurdles.
While the medal will boost her confidence for the rest of the season, Nel said she had already made a mind shift before the quadrennial showpiece.
“From the start of the season I’ve had a different approach and even before the Commonwealth Games I started to believe more in myself,” Nel said. “The attitude that I had going into the Games was already different compared to other years.”
She will need that confidence over the weekend where she will go up against some top-notch opposition.
The field includes four women who have dipped below 54 seconds in their careers, including newly crowned Commonwealth champion Janieve Russell of Jamaica.
Adding further fire to the line-up is Olympic champion Delilah Muhammad of the United States and her compatriot world indoor champion Georganne Moline will also be in the mix.
Middle-distance ace Rynardt van Rensburg completes the South African contingent in the 800m.