Success Stories

Luvo Manyonga

My Story with Luvo

Read my story with Luvo, how we met and the work I did with him to move him from a state of addiction to Olympic glory. … Read more …


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The Impossibility of Loving Luvo

Late on Monday morning, in the dignified surrounds of Stellenbosch University, there was a memorial service for Maties athletics coach Mario Smith. It was a select gathering in what they call “die saal” in Maties circles: an old, narrow hall with vases of flowers in the recessed windows and thick wooden beams in the ceiling.

The statue of Danie Craven and his dog Bliksem stood guard nearby and the air was cold with grief and pain. A boy sitting in front of me cried softly on his mother’s shoulder. Smith had been a feature of Stellenbosch athletics for years. He was wise and caring and the eulogies were long and heartfelt  … Read more …

Nature and nurture tell a big part of the story about two of SA’s Rio-bound athletes

Sitting not far apart in economy class on an aircraft bound for Canada six years ago were two singular young South African athletes. They were part of a far larger travelling group and in subsequent years their stars would arc away from each other in profoundly different directions.

But on that early July day they touched down in the New Brunswick town of Moncton as brothers, eager as tomcats to show the athletics world what they could do … Read More …

Luvo Manyonga broke a deal with the devil and decided to jump rather than die

If you had asked Luvo Manyonga’s friends and family two years ago where they saw the now 25-year-old in 2016, some might have replied: “dead.”

On Saturday night, the prodigal son lived up to the potential he had shown during his junior career. On the biggest stage in the world, it was the biggest performance of his life. And if this was anything to go by, the best is yet to come … Read More …

Luvo Manyonga ‘jumps or dies’

When I last met long jumper Luvo Manyonga a little over a year ago, he was half-heartedly weaving together the strands of a badly fraying life. Domestic existence was ropey and his coach had just died in a car accident; tik was cutting a swath through Mbekweni, the township outside Paarl in which he lived, and he was watching buddies fall like skittles – victims of the endemic gun crime that lubricates the drug wars over turf and market share.

Despite the horror and the drift, he became vaguely aware that, had he taken a different route home or been standing at a different angle in a pool of light, the victim could have been him. Given his talent, it seemed a waste to be another senseless murder in the Western Cape’s rampant shantytowns, which now contain about half a million users of tik … Read More …

Jump or die. How a silver medallist leapt over the odds that marginalise drug users

Since winning the silver at the Rio Olympics, everybody loves South African long-jumper Luvo Manyonga. That wasn’t always the case, as pointed out by journalist Luke Alfred in his poignant 2014 piece “Luvo Manyonga jumps or dies”.

Manyonga, it appeared after testing positive for recreational methamphetamine use in 2012, was destined to become another promising young person lost to –- and I paraphrase – “the demon scourge of drugs”. Instead, the prodigal son returned, with a silver medal in hand. His is an example for other young people. If we are to believe the popular press and social media commentators, drugs can ruin your life and hard work and abstinence will be rewarded … Read More …

From crystal meth to Olympic glory: the recovery and rise of Luvo Manyonga

Luvo Manyonga has already created my favourite story of the year but, on a gentle summer afternoon in Pretoria, the South African long jumper is just getting started. At the Rio Olympics in August, Manyonga conjured up a dizzying leap when he transformed the desperate grind of poverty and drug addiction into a beautifully shiny silver medal and soothing redemption. It proved he had overcome the bleak hold that crystal meth once exerted over his township life.

Manyonga now looks like a million dollars. He might be wearing only a vest, shorts and flip-flops but he gleams with health at the University of Pretoria’s High Performance Centre … Read More …

The Irishman who propelled meth addict to Olympic silver

John McGrath, a Waterford strongman and former champion rower and kickboxer, helped disgraced athlete Luvo Manyonga choose between the podium and death. But his transformation was no road to Damascus, he tells our reporter.

Luvo Manyonga’s face suggested silver was enough. A little after 10 on a Saturday night back in August, he’d just been beaten down to the second step of the podium in the last round of the long jump final. But of course silver was enough … Read More …

Luvo Manyonga: the long jump from drug addict to gold medalist

Here comes the story of Luvo Manyonga – because somehow, lost behind the comic-strip hero and villain in London these past few days, is the true story of drug use and sporting redemption and the Irishman who played a strong hand in it.

“It’s not what happens but how you respond,” said John McGrath in a tweet, posted not long after Manyonga won the men’s long jump inside the Olympic Stadium on Saturday night – around the same time the crowd were booing Justin Gatlin’s 100m victory over Usain Bolt. … Read More …

‘By lifting others, you also lift yourself ’ – John McGrath’s remarkable journey

Ask John McGrath how far he’s come to speak at the GAA coaching conference in Croke Park on Saturday and you don’t get an answer: you get a philosophy – from a man whose experience is unique not only to sport but to life and all that comes with it.

“I’m just going to tell them my story,” McGrath tells me, and with good reason. The conference theme is “Think It, Do It, Become It” and McGrath has done plenty of that and more: hurler, rower, martial artist, circus strongman, strength and conditioning coach, motivational speaker and world record holder, the only limits being the limits of his imagination … Read More …

Heavy lifting puts Irish strongman back on his feet in Cape Town

Cape Town, on South Africa’s southwest coast, is a “glorious” place and rather than dream about living there, “strongman” John McGrath moved to the city in 2009 after the Irish economy and, subsequently, his life collapsed.

“I owned a gym in Waterford and was training hurling players among others. I had invested all my savings in property. Life was good. Then the recession came,” he says. … Read More …