SAMAAI AND JOHNSON LOOKING TO BUILD ON SA’S OLYMPIC LEGACY

Even without national record holder Luvo Manyonga in their ranks, South Africa’s top long jumpers will be confident of producing a strong challenge in the event at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

The country has been represented in the men’s long jump final at the last three editions of the Games, earning two medals in the process.

At the 2008 showpiece in Beijing, Khotso Mokoena launched what has developed into a rich recent history in the discipline at the Olympics, snatching the silver medal and saving the SA team by securing the squad’s only podium place.

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In London four years later, Mokoena settled for eighth position, but South Africa returned to the podium at the 2016 Rio Games when Luvo Manyonga grabbed another silver medal after being edged out by one centimetre in a tight battle against American athlete Jeff Henderson.

Ruswahl Samaai also competed in the final in Rio, finishing ninth.

With Manyonga sidelined after being handed another ban for anti-doping rule violations, however, Samaai will carry the country’s hopes in Tokyo, along with Cheswill Johnson.

Since the Rio Games, Samaai has been one of SA’s most consistent athletes at major international events.

He earned the bronze medal at the 2017 World Championships in London – with Manyonga winning gold – and in 2018 he was in superb form, bagging bronze at the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast, successfully defending his African title in Asaba and securing victory at the Continental Cup in Ostrava.

And while he missed out on the podium, Samaai finished fifth at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, just behind Manyonga, who was fourth.

He has not jumped further than 8.23m since the 2018 season, but Samaai has repeatedly proved he has the composure to deliver his best on the biggest of stages, and if he’s in the final, he will always have a chance.

Johnson, meanwhile, has jumped beyond 8.10m in three of the last four seasons, also showing he has the ability to put up a fight.

Possessing even more raw speed than Samaai – which is saying a lot – Johnson is an exciting prospect.

He lacks experience at this level, however, and he is likely to need a personal best if he wants to challenge for a medal.

Realistically, in terms of form, Johnson is ranked 13th in the world this year with his 8.26m personal best, and Samaai is ranked 22nd after winning the national title with a season’s best of 8.16m.

One of the strongest disciplines on the circuit at the moment, the men’s long jump boasts tremendous depth, with eight athletes having sailed beyond 8.30m this year, and a hard-fought battle is expected in Tokyo.

So they’re in for a tough time, but Samaai in particular has the proven pedigree to challenge for the podium.

And both South African athletes could build on the nation’s growing legacy in the long jump at the Olympic Games.