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Leonel Manzano — November, 2012
Leonel Manzano won the Silver Medal in the 1,500 meter run at the 2012 Olympics in London, England. It was the first medal for the U.S. in that event since Jim Ryun earned a Silver Medal in 1968. Leo is the 2012 Olympic Trials 1,500 meter champion. He also was a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team and the 2007, 2009 and 2011 U.S. World Championship teams. In the 1,500 meters Leo has been a medalist at the U.S. Championships seven straight years. He finished second in the 2008 Olympic Trials, second at the 2010, 2009 and 2007 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, along with third place finishes in 2006 and 2011. Leo became the eighth fastest American in history in the mile at the 2010 London Grand Prix with his PR of 3:50.64. Other career highlights include winning the 2012 IAAF Diamond League London Mile and USATF Indoor 1,500 meter titles in 2012 and 2010. He competed for the University of Texas and is a nine-time All-American. Leo is a five-time NCAA champion, four-time NCAA Midwest Regional 1500m winner and 10-time Big 12 Champion. He helped the Longhorns set a World Record in the indoor distance medley relay (9:25.97). In 2008 Leo was named USTFCCCA Athlete of the Year and the Most Outstanding Performer at both the Texas and Penn Relays. He is a six-time 4A Texas State High School champion at Marble Falls High School on the track at 800m (twice), 1,600m (twice), 3,200m (twice) and three-time state champion in cross country. His personal best times include: 800m – 1:44.56; 1,000m – 2:19.73; 1500m – 3:32.37 and mile – 3:50.64. A 2008 graduate of the University of Texas who majored in Spanish and Portuguese with a minor in business, Leo lives in Granite Shoals, Texas. He was kind enough to spend an hour on the telephone in early October, 2012.
GCR:It’s been over two months since you placed second in the London Olympic 1,500 meters and earned the Silver Medal. Are you getting used to being introduced as ‘Leo Manzano, Olympic Silver medalist,’ or is it still a bit surreal?
LMIt is still kind of unreal. It’s settling in, but it was pretty hard to sleep for the first two or three days afterward. It was very exciting and a rollercoaster.
GCR:Now that you have an Olympic medal is there some type of lockbox where you keep it or do you put it under your pillow at night?
LMAs of now I’m sleeping next to it. I haven’t put it under my pillow, but it isn’t far away from me. It sits on a little counter next to my bed at night.
GCR:Medaling at the Olympics or World Championships has been one of your top goals for years. How did the achievement compare with the anticipation of how you thought it would be?
LMI thought I had a good chance for a medal, but of course one can never be too sure. I never want to go into a race thinking that I can’t win. I knew it was going to be hard but I didn’t think it was going to be impossible. And yes, we brought home a medal.
GCR:How exciting was it to participate in the Closing Ceremonies, and this time with a Silver Medal around your neck?
LMIt was incredible – a special moment and a special event. With a medal it made it even more exceptional.
GCR:Since the Olympics, you have had the opportunity to meet many celebrities including the President and First Lady, and entertainers. What are some of the outstanding memories of these past two months?
LMI did get to meet the President and to shake his hand and to give the First Lady a hug. Any times you meet leaders like that are special moments so that really stands out in my mind. Another thing I was able to do was to hang out with Eva Longoria and get a hug from her and our picture taken together so that was one of my favorite moments as well.
GCR:Was there any athlete whom you met that left an unforgettable memory you will always cherish?
LMI’ve always been a huge fan of Billy Mills so getting to meet him at a big event in London was great and to me it was extraordinary when he was holding my Olympic medal. It was almost like he was passing a torch and giving me approval. It was a very symbolic moment on his part and I was honored that he was able to hold my medal. He has meant lot to the sport of track and field and to me. I always tell people to respect your elders and I really respect Billy Mills.
GCR:How do you view your ever-increasing role as an ambassador for health and fitness and especially for encouraging children to exercise?
LMOne of the things I want to encourage is all children and all people to look at me as an example that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from as long as you work hard and dedicate your time to what you like and enjoy. I just want to continue to convey that if you work hard you can succeed no matter what your background. I hope that others are inspired by me to work hard and to follow their dreams, hopes and goals.
GCR:How thrilling and humbling was it to have a parade and fireworks in your honor in Marble Falls and Granite Shoals?
LMIt was exciting as the celebration started with a pep rally in at the auditorium in Marble Falls, which is the town where I grew up. Then we drove to Granite Shoals which is where I live now. Being part of the two communities and my winning the first Olympic Medal ever in Burnett County was very special. I got to go home and see the communities celebrate something that we brought home after 44 years of the U.S. not medaling in the 1,500 meters. And we brought it to the U.S. and to Texas. I just can’t stop using the word, ‘special,’ because that is how everything felt.
GCR:As you mentioned, you earned the first Olympic Medal in the 1,500 meters by a U.S. man since Jim Ryun won the Silver Medal in 1968. With all of the great U.S. 1,500 meter runners since then such as Marty Liquori, Steve Scott, Jim Spivey, and Alan Webb, how much does it mean to win one for the U.S.?
LMI am speechless because I don’t know how to answer that. When I look back at all of the great runners, they are guys that I admired. When I was growing up I looked up to Alan Webb and later on got to compete against him. When I was younger, he was ‘the guy’ who took me to school on the track. But I learned that it didn’t matter where I came from or how tall I was, with the right focus and hard work great things would come to me. That is more or less what has happened. But each day I do spend three to five hours in training and doing the right things and that allowed me to bring a medal home for the U.S.
GCR:Also, has Jim Ryun contacted you to congratulate you?
LMHe did send me a Tweet on Twitter congratulating me on the Silver medal for the U.S. and that for our country it was about time which I totally agreed with. I thanked him. (Note – a tweet from Jim Ryun said ‘What a great race by Leo Manzano. A silver medal. Well done! What a kick. Made me proud - it had been too long.’)
GCR:Let’s take an in-depth look at your Olympic finals race. Just before you were introduced to the crowd in the Olympic Stadium you did a sign of the cross and looked skyward. What were your thoughts at that point?
LMI normally don’t talk too much about God, but I consider myself to be a very religious person. I always want to thank Him for everything he has given me and I thanked Him for the opportunity to race. At the same time I also said a small prayer for Him to help me out in the race, to be with me and to run with me.
GCR:In my recent interview with Wesley Korir, who won the 2012 Boston Marathon, he said that one thing Ryan Hall helped him with was to let God pour out of him while he was racing. Wesley said he became a much better runner when he combined his faith and running into one. What are your thoughts on this subject?
LMIt does make sense. As a runner I spend 90% of my training alone and become very in tune with myself. So what I normally do is that I tend to pray and be in a meditative zone and end up feeling very much at peace after running.
GCR:In the race it was very crowded early and it took about 300 meters before you were able to move from lane two into the inside lane toward the back of the pack. Was there much jostling and were you just trying to run comfortably and to stay out of trouble?
LMMy biggest goal was to stay out of trouble, though I didn’t want to be that far back. I knew that with 400 meters to go runners would start pushing. I have the international experience of two Olympics and three World Championships so I know, more or less, what is going to happen. My job is to put myself in position, use my strengths to my advantage and to make it happen. It just happened that I was that far back as I couldn’t get through. I had to wait until I had an opportunity to make my move.
GCR:With just over a lap to go Taoufik Makhloufi pushed his way through traffic to the front. You were boxed in and couldn’t move up at that point. Since he was so dominant in your semifinal heat were you concerned that you might be missing out on the big move and that your medal chances were in jeopardy?
LMOh, of course. I never want to go into a race thinking I can’t win or do well, but there is doubt as to whether you can come through or not. Then during the race I am thinking of how I am going to do within the race and am consciously aware of how I am feeling, continually figuring out what I am going to do, who is making a move and what is going to be my next move. A bit before 400 meters to go I noticed the jostling and pushing and for me it was like a make or break moment. Within tenths of a second so many thoughts were flooding through my brain. I was thinking, ‘am I going to do this now or am I going to have to wait another four years?’ I knew that if I didn’t do it that it was going to be a long time before I would get another chance. My mind was filled with images of the people who helped me and were there for me and of my family. I knew then that I was going to fight every second until the last second of the race. That is when I woke up. Then with 300 meters to go I was starting to make a move and a runner in front of me moved out. This was good as I stayed on the inside and conserved energy instead of having to go around. When I passed him I gained momentum. As I gained that momentum the more runners I was able to pass.
GCR:There was some daylight on the backstretch, but you were only able to move up two places to eighth with 200 meters to go. How strong did you feel and were you just focusing on one runner in front of you at a time?
LMI felt great and with about 200 meters to go I passed Nick Willis who had a great kick and wasn’t really moving. I didn’t know what was happening, but in my mind I knew that I had to keep passing people to keep my momentum.
GCR:Coming off of the final turn you were in sixth place, but only about six meters behind the second and third runners. Were you totally focused on racing for a medal?
LMWith 100 meters to go there was still doubt for me because 100 meters isn’t that much distance. But in my mind I was thinking, ‘C’mon, let’s go.’ I was sort of in a prayer-like state and was asking the Big Man upstairs to push me and to help me. I knew that I had a pretty good kick and I wasn’t done just yet. Like I said before, I was going to fight until the last second. That’s exactly what I did and with about fifty meters to go I came up to second and third place. I didn’t just come up to them, but I passed right by them.
GCR:How exciting was it when you were in the moment and flying past four runners into second place to claim the Silver Medal?
LMI literally felt like the strongest man in the world. That is what it feels like. I was powering through and felt very strong and very alive.
GCR:You pumped your fist and then went to your hands and knees on the track. Could you even believe it had happened after so many years of hard effort?
LMAs soon as I crossed the finish line and I knew that I had a medal there was a rush of emotions that came to me. It was a bit of everything – I was excited and it was a relief. I thought of how people have had doubts about me because of my size and how I race. Many people underestimate me and I was able to prove that I could get a medal and I was one of the top guys. There was also a bit of sadness because after 15 years of running and training, I thought of all of the time away from family where I missed birthdays and holidays. I realized all of the sacrifices it took for me to win a medal. The rush of emotions was very intense.
GCR:You mentioned about people underestimating you. I believe that when I looked at the form charts before the Olympics that Track and Field News projected you in ninth place and gave you a two percent chance of earning a medal. How did it feel to achieve what you did with the so-called experts underestimating you?
LMI’ve had my most consistent year this season and for some reason, maybe it’s my size, people keep underestimating me. But facts are facts and I’ve made two Olympic teams and three World Championships teams.
GCR:Not to mention that you’ve been in the top three and medaled in the 1,500 meters for the past seven years at the U.S. Championships.
LMI don’t know what it is, but at the end of the day I use it as fuel for the fire which is great. Sometimes we need people to not believe in us so we can prove to them that we can do it. That is more or less how I have lived my life.
GCR:What were your thoughts as you were on the podium and received your Silver Medal?
LMI felt like I won. I was ecstatic. It was an incredible moment as well. It was exactly what I had dreamed about and what I thought it was going to be. People were cheering and chanting and it was so exciting.
GCR:You took a lap around the track with both United States and Mexican flags. Was it doubly exciting to represent the country that has been your home since age four and your birth country?
LMYes. The U.S. is my home, I love the U.S. and I wouldn’t change that for the world, but my roots are still in Mexico. I celebrate American Independence Day on the Fourth of July, but I also celebrate Mexican Independence Day on September 16th. I have a big love for both countries. I have grandparents, aunts and uncles in Mexico who are cheering for me. The Olympics represents countries dropping their arms to compete passively in competition to see who can run the fas test or throw the furthest so that is what it boils down to.
GCR:Were your parents able to attend this Olympic Games as they had for the 2008 Beijing Games?
LMNo, they weren’t able to this time around as they had to work and it would have taken a lot of their time to be in London. Also, for me this was pretty serious business.
GCR:You mentioned that when you were on the podium you felt like you had won. Your final gear was vastly superior to anyone in the race and you were reeling in Makhloufi. Do you wish you had been a little closer so that you could have had a better shot at the Gold Medal?
LMIt was what it was. I may always have some thoughts about that, but I am happy and felt like a champion on that day. I still feel like a real champion and that feeling won’t go away.
GCR:You knocked on the door of winning the U.S. Championship for six years with two bronze medals and four silver medals. Two years ago you told me that one of your primary goals was to win the title. How did it feel to finally do so this year at the Olympic Trials?
LMOh man, it was incredible. Through the years I have always been the underdog and wasn’t predicted to win. Now I won and it showed that I am able to do this. Every year I have to go out and prove it to everyone that I am still there so the U.S. Championship win was amazing.
GCR:When I went back and reviewed the tape of the race, one of the announcers referred to you as ‘The Master of Making Teams.’ The announcers agreed that, ‘No matter what, Leo Manzano knows how to race his way onto U.S. teams.’ What does this say?
LMI have been very blessed with placing myself in good position, making good moves and have been able to make the top three finishes.
GCR:It’s interesting that The 2012 Olympic Trials race developed similarly to your Olympic race with you in fourth place for 600 meters and then being shuffled back to tenth place over the next 400 meters. What was your pre-race strategy and was it playing out?
LMI have to make it exciting (laughing). Every race is different and I love to race. I’ve never been the best time trial runner, but when it comes to racing I want to win. Of course I won’t win every time, but when I do it makes it worthwhile.
GCR:You made a strong move on the home stretch and went from 10th place to third within 100 meters. How were you feeling at this point and was your confidence level high that you were in position to make the Olympic team?
LMI was focused on making the team and coming in the top three. My training emphasized being able to withstand rounds and to make the team rather than racing fast as was my focus back in 2010. So this year we honed things down and built strength to be strong through rounds.
GCR:Coming off of the final turn you stormed after Matt Centrowitz, the two of you pulled away from the field and you finally passed him for the win with 20 meters to go. Take us through the last 100 meters and the finish line as to how you were physically and mentally.
LMEach time I race I approach it aiming to win. I don’t go there to get second. So I gave Matt my best shot and my goal was to win. I don’t believe in not being the best competitor possible and not going for the win just because I made a team unless I’m hurt. Any time I race someone from the U.S. I want to give him a good race.
GCR:When you kick you go by outstanding runners very quickly. When you went by Matt did you feel as strong as you looked?
LMI had a rush of adrenaline that is kind of like when you are passing cars on a road. As I passed him, and always when I pass competitors, I gain momentum and feel very strong from the rush.
GCR:Since you have made so many U.S. national teams you are very familiar with what is needed to peak twice for the U.S. Championships and Worlds or the Olympics. What did you this year to ensure a successful ‘double peak,’ as with the increased strength in U.S. middle distance it took a strong effort to just make the U.S. team and then did you do anything different which helped you earn a medal in London?
LMWhether we like it or not, running is a business and we have to focus primarily on everything to ensure our success. So right after my races I’m taking care of myself by seeing the physiologist and chiropractor, taking an ice bath and staying on top of supplements and nutrition. Of course, I also have to get plenty of rest. So as soon as I’m finished with one race I am getting ready for the next.
GCR:What did you focus on in your tune-up races in Europe before the Olympics and in your training to put you in the best position to medal in London?
LMMy training was pretty similar, but I did make sure that my body was more intact by strengthening different areas of my body so that everything was firing properly. We went through a series of mobility exercises to ensure that everything was working right just like when fine tuning a car. I become very much in tune with my body and am aware if anything needs adjustment or tuning.
GCR:Going back to late 2011, since you were coming off of a hamstring injury, what did you do differently over the winter and into the spring of 2012 in terms of your elements of training and to strengthen the hamstring?
LMWe kept up with everything, but what helped me was learning how to really get my muscles to fire properly. I believe that my hamstrings were working right, but that some muscles in my glutes and back that should have been complementing my hamstrings were not engaging in tandem with the hamstrings. So we added exercises to wake up those muscles so that they would fire properly.
GCR:What are some of the specific exercises you have added which have helped your overall fitness and readiness to race?
LMWe added some Olympic style lifts to help strengthen my back and glutes.
GCR:When we spoke in the past you have mentioned that your off-season weekly mileage tends to peak at 60 to 70 miles as this is the right zone for you. Has this changed at all or was this pretty similar during the winter of 2011 to 2012?
LMEverybody is different and runners need to find what maximum mileage is right for them. For me it is 60 to 70 miles per week. Of course, I could do more, but then I’d be travelling on wires. It is better for me to stay with what has been successful.
GCR:Back to racing, how difficult was it to focus on the remainder of your racing season after your Olympic success?
LMIt was very difficult, especially after an emotional high. It is like being on a roller coaster. The day after my Olympic race I was featured on all sorts of television broadcasts and was hanging out with people I normally wouldn’t be with. But then I had to head back to my hotel room to rest and get out to the track to train and keep this up for another month. This year I had trained for the Trials and the Olympics so my focus wasn’t on fast racing, but on being strong through the rounds. It was hard to go back and keep racing.
GCR:How difficult was it to find time and places to train with the post-Olympics media hoopla?
LMI ended the season with a good race at the Fifth Avenue Mile despite having two weeks beforehand of travel on what was sort of a media tour. I flew from Austin to L.A to Houston to Washington, D.C. and then to New York for the Fifth Avenue Mile. I was having trouble in that time just finding tracks and other places to train.
GCR:How much fun was it racing Bernard Lagat and Matt Centrowitz at this year’s Fifth Avenue Mile as you know each other well and all knew it was a season finale?
LMIt is a very special event as the New York Road Runners have been very supportive in bringing running to life with crowds that get to see us for free. It is amazing to run in New York City with Fifth Avenue closed down for us.
GCR:You typically take a two week break from training after the season, but this year are in the midst of a five week break which is what Bernard Lagat does each year and suggested to you. Do you find yourself getting restless?
LMIn the past I have only taken two or three weeks off. But it is important for me to rest my body and my mind. Training and competing is like going to work and I am constantly battling and fighting to make sure I’m on top of things. There is wear and tear, not only on my body, but on my mind. Our bodies can handle about anything, but our minds need time to regroup. I also have a personal life so I have settled in here in Austin to make sure I’ve got my bills paid and my home life in order. It is a perfect time to rest and relax.
GCR:Two years ago you mentioned that you had time goals of breaking 3:50 in the mile and 3:30 at 1,500 meters while also running a 1:43 for 800 meters. How important are these goals, are you focusing more on U.S. Championships and World or Olympic medals and will these time goals get more attention in 2014 which is the next year without an Olympics or World Championships?
LMIt’s usually easier when there is a year without a major championship to run fast. Now that I am a Silver Medalist it may be easier to run fast because I kind of have a medal ‘out of the way.’ But we still want to make some U.S. teams so we have to do those things to make sure we make those teams.
GCR:As thoughts turn to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero, are you hopeful of training and racing another four years and aiming for a third Olympic squad?
LMYes, racing through 2016 and making another U.S. Olympic team is a big goal.
GCR:Since you majored in college in Spanish and Portuguese will you look into any opportunities for an enhanced role with the 2016 Olympics as an athlete, broadcaster or both since Portuguese is spoken in Brazil?
LMI speak Portuguese quite fluently so I am looking forward to putting it to good use. It’s an amazing culture and great people and with globalization we have to get out there and communicate in other languages when we can.
GCR:Will you consider doing what Bernard Lagat did and dabble a bit in running 5,000 meters, especially in 2014 when there is not an Olympic Games or World Championships? Two years ago you told me you hadn’t thought about it – well, have you thought about it since then?
LMThere have been thoughts about it, but I love the mile and 800 meters. I may do one 5,000 meter race for fun. But running is hard. It’s not easy. And there are lots of things that go into racing the 5,000 meters as you have to up your mileage and pay more attention to avoiding injuries and stress fractures.
GCR:The reason I bring this up again is because of how the 5,000 meters internationally is such a ‘sit and kick’ race that you seem suited for.
LMIt really is, especially in championship races, so I do see your point. I would like to do one for fun, but haven’t thought about serious racing at 5,000 meters.
GCR:Have you and your coaches talked at all about any tweaking of your training as you approach the 2013 season and World Championships?
LMI am resting for the most part, but am getting restless. So this is the perfect time to start thinking of what we are going to do in the next training cycle and how we are going to tweak things. It’s a great time to come up with some new ideas, which I have, but I can’t tell you about them yet.
GCR:You can’t tell me? But I want to get the scoop on the other publications and websites!
LMIt’s a constant thing as my training is evolving. I have to keep moving with the sport and you pretty much know everything I’m doing.
GCR:Now that you have won your first U.S. outdoor title and an Olympic Medal, how focused are you on challenging for the Gold Medal at the 2013 World Championships?
LMNow that we have a medal I think that everything else becomes more fun. To tell you the truth, I love the sport, but sometimes it gets hard when you are training so hard and going through tough times. That decreases the fun. But now I can bring my intensity and there are no monsters in the closet. I can focus on having fun and going out there and doing it.
GCR:What have you learned in the past two years after the injury and setbacks in 2011 and successes in 2012 that you would like to share with my readers?
LMRunning is like a parallel to life. That’s how I see it. You go through hard times and up a hill that you know is challenging in life. You know the hill you climb is hard but you will get through it. I intertwine it as when there are hard times in life, whatever it may be such as a bad day at home or work, I like to go out and go through a run. I do some thinking and after the run I feel a lot better. My mind is clear and I feel great. It’s the same thing in a race as in life. You can’t go out too fast and be crazy. You have to stay in the right zone and not overdo and then in the end there is a finish, so even if you are hurting and struggling, you will be done.
GCR:And now the most important question - that Mexican/Spanish rice you’ve made and featured on Facebook looks delicious. Can you please break your silence and divulge the recipe?!?!
LMThat’s actually mom’s recipe. I’ve only taught that to one other person, Shannon Rowbury, and she should still know how to make it. But no, I’m not going to share it. By the way, it is as good as it looks. The only person who could make it better than me is my mom since it is her recipe.
 Inside Stuff
Late night fast food spotOne of the places by my house I like to go to is ‘Taco Cabana.’ That’s if it’s real late and I’m hungry
Most recent music concertLast year I went to the big Austin City Limits concert which I missed this year
Strangest autograph requestOddly, people have been asking me to sign their cell phones and cell phone cases. My signature is not going to last very long on a mobile device!
Most unusual thing said by a coachCoach Cook always talks about ‘throwing grenades’
PhobiasI’m afraid that I may get sick since that would affect my health for running, so I’m always washing my hands. In public places I hate touching the doors so I will wait until someone opens a door or I will find a spot where they normally don’t touch the door
Most recent thing that made your mom angryThis one is tough as my mom doesn't get mad... she's a saint!
Pre-race musicNone
Must see TVI’m not a big television viewer though I do watch the news every morning
Time machine travelI’ve always been interested in seeing dinosaurs. As a kid I always liked them. I think I’d go back and check out the dinosaurs
Irresistible junk foodI do drink a lot of soda pop. I have cut down a lot and there are times in training when I don’t have them, but that is one thing I have trouble resisting
Most annoying habitIt has to be getting hyped up on coffee. It makes me start doing a lot. When I am with my family I’ll start jumping from one topic to another
Favorite Halloween costumeI’ve always liked Superman and Batman. Those were my favorites as a kid
Main iPod musicI love Country music
First thing in the morningI just say a little prayer to myself thanking the Big Man upstairs for everything he has given to me
Favorite birthday memory? It was two years ago when we got together as a family and we got together and broke a piñata
Food you don’t eatI pretty much eat everything. I can’t think of anything
Worst cooking experienceOne time I was helping a friend cook for our two dates as we were getting ready to go out afterward for the evening. A USADA representative showed up and I had to have him with me on our date. I was supposed to help my friend cook, but couldn’t as I had to just sit and watch television. It was an awkward moment as the four of us were hanging out with the drug police man. That was the worst as it was one of my first dates with that lady
TV reality show dreamThere is one show called ‘Survival man,’ where they drop you off in the middle of nowhere and you have to survive. I think it would be kind of crazy but fun
Exciting Austin night lifeAs a younger guy going downtown and dancing was always fun
Favorite cartoonI really liked Dragon Ball Z when I was growing up. It’s a Japanese Anime cartoon
Favorite movie lineI loved The Matrix and there was a line, ‘This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill -- the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill -- you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.’