Hamstrung champion aims to bounce back

Varsity Sports Athletics on 7 April 2016, Coetzenburg Stadium, Stellenbosch. Photo: Thys Lombard Mens Long Jump Ruswahl Samaai (83) UJ

An untimely hamstring injury saw South African and African long jump champion Ruswahl Samaai fall short of the podium at the recent Rio Olympics.

The 24-year-old University of Johannesburg student, who boasts a personal best of 8.38m and fully expected to be in the hunt for a medal, was short-changed when he ripped his hamstring two days before the competition.

Samaai, who arrived in Rio in confident mood after winning the Diamond League event in Rabat, said he was busy with speed work when he suffered the 2.5cm tear that would ultimately lead to his demise.

Even though he was able to finish the workout, he said it soon became apparent that he would be short of his best in a competitive situation.

“There was nothing I could do, so I decided to focus and try and make it to the final. It was tough as I could not fully stretch the injured leg.”

Remarkably, the South African qualified for the final in fifth place with a leap of 8.03m.

Apart from the injury affected his jumping, Samaai said he also had to alter the length of his approach several times to compensate for the lack of strength in the leg.

The former Paarl Gimnasium pupil ultimately placed ninth behind American Jeff Henderson, who rubbed salt in his wounds by winning gold with the same distance as his personal best.

Samaai said he had mixed feelings after the Games.

“On the one hand I’m frustrated, because I clearly had the potential to podium. On the other, jumping beyond eight metres on an injured hamstring motivates me.”

He wasted no time in getting a leg up for next season and started his rehabilitation with the university’s team of physiotherapists as soon as he touched down in South Africa.

The transportation management student, who is coached by Jenny Kingwill, said he would be focusing on his fitness and strength during the off-season with UJ’s Morné Nagel.

Despite his bad luck in Rio, Samaai said he had every reason to be optimistic.

“I know for a fact that if I put in the work now, I’m going to accomplish all my goals in the future.”

And the first of these is next year’s world championships in London.