Luvo Manyonga has emulated Carl Lewis by recording four distance of 8.60m or more. Photo: Roger Sedres, BackpagePix
Unrehearsed and against good advice, Luvo Manyonga landed a back-flip to celebrate his return to athletics as the showman booked his place at his maiden Olympic Games.

It was only Manyonga’s second meet since his comeback over a year ago, with the back-flip becoming his signature move after every major milestone.

Manyonga has always been an entertainer, and is rumoured to have leapt over stationary cars wearing a pair of crocs.

The Luvo Manyonga show has since moved away from the township and on to the global stage.

Since winning Olympic silver in Rio de Janeiro, Manyonga has conquered the world one leap at a time. This season Manyonga continued to break new ground, setting a new African record of 8.65m.

He has recorded four distances of 8.60m or further this season, emulating American long jump and sprinting legend Carl Lewis’ performances from 1987.

Manyonga appears to have only scratched the surface of his potential as he looks to fly further than has been thought to be humanly possible.

“The world record had been a goal for me even before I started doing long jump, and I wanted to be the first person on earth to jump over nine metres,” Manyonga said.

Luvo Manyonga wants to go one step further from the Olympics and grab gold at the world championships. Photo: Dylan Martinez, Reuters

While Manyonga is changing the long jump game, he is also providing the entertainment outside the sandpit.

As the curtain draws on Usain Bolt’s career, Manyonga could do for long jump what the Jamaican did for sprinting.

Bolt changed the face of a sport that had become stale and all too serious. Former IOC president Jacques Rogge infamously scolded Bolt for not showing his competitors more respect.

“I understand the joy. He might have interpreted that in another way, but the way it was perceived was ‘catch me if you can’. You don’t do that. But he’ll learn. He’s still a young man,” Rogge said back in 2008.

Fortunately, Bolt did not suffer fools gladly and can retire after this year’s World Championships safe in the knowledge he had changed the sport for the better.

The charismatic Manyonga has all attributes – prodigiously talented and an unbridled propensity for having fun – to achieve similar fame and fortune as Bolt.

Former world triple jump record holder Willie Banks is credited for inventing the slow, rhythmic hand clap in Stockholm, which is now commonplace during the jumping competitions.

Thirty-six years later, Manyonga lines up in Stockholm, where he will no doubt bring his own brand of razzle-dazzle.

Luvo Manyonga wants to become the first man to break through the nine-metre barrier. Photo: Reg Caldecott

Two weeks ago, the man from Mbekweni near Paarl randomly backed into the blocks for a 100m race in Pretoria, where he crossed the line in a creditable wind-aided time of 10.39 seconds wearing his jumping spikes.

The fun factor is a crucial part of Manyonga’s make-up, and was a key element to his silver-medal winning jump in Rio.

According to John McGrath, instrumental in reviving Manyonga’s career, revealed how they had included the fun element into the long jumper’s mental game at the Olympics.

“The secret to taking the pressure off was that I needed Luvo to think of himself as the rock star,” McGrath said.

“When rock stars perform, they have fun – that was the basis of his mental approach.

“The story of Luvo shows us that throughout life, we all have the potential to unravel and disintegrate, or go on to greatness and glory. It depends on what we decide.”

Saturday Star

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