It seemed as though Leo Manzano waited until the final seconds of his race at the London 2012 Olympic London to put on a show. During the final stretch of his 1,500-meter race, the 5'5” Manzano wove through a cluster of taller and lankier runners, storming ahead from the very back of the field to claim the silver medal.
“I started working on that finishing kick in high school, but it’s something you continue developing,” Manzano told a crowd at a McDonald’s Hispanic Operator Association conference in San Antonio, Texas. “Nowadays, what happens is that the 1,500 meters… is really a sprint now, whereas it used to be more of a mid-distance.”
When Manzano looks back at the success he had in 2012, he’s sometimes reminded of the first race he ever won. He spent some time as a boy herding sheep with his grandfather in Mexico, and the two would sometimes race each other through the fields. One day, Manzano’s grandfather broke his foot and was on crutches for their next race. That showdown was Manzano’s first victory. He was four years old.
“I was trying to figure out where I got my running genes,” said Manzano, who is Mexican-American. “I thought I got it from my grandfather, but I think I got it from my grandmother.”
Manzano, an athlete sponsored by
“Leo’s personal story reflects the start many of us had and shows us what optimism, effort, and a no-quit attitude can do for you,” said MHOA Chairman Bruno Nechamkin. “It is the true American success story."
Manzano certainly didn’t have a smooth start to his running career. He recalled that when he first joined a team, he wore jeans, hiking boots and a dress shirt to practice. He didn’t have any of the right running apparel until a few weeks after the first practice of the season. But he stuck with it, went on to run in high school, and won nine state championships. Soon after that, he was getting college offers.
But as with many athletes, Manzano’s most memorable successes were sometimes followed by great hardship. Even the moment of standing on the podium after winning a silver medal in London was followed by a time that bittersweet, as Manzano was unable to re-negotiate his contract with his shoe sponsor and was left without financial support for over a year.
“I had many sleepless nights, but I decided to continue, not just for myself, but my family, my friends, and everybody who had been there in support. They motivated me to push on. Not too long after, I was able to come back, win another national championship, and run a personal best in the 1,500 meters with three minutes and 30 seconds, which was also the fifth-fastest time in U.S. history.”
Manzano says he’s “decided to go one more round”, starting next year with the International Federation of Athletics Association (IAAF) World Championship in London, a city that has treated Manzano well in the past. After failing to qualify at the Olympic Trials for the 2016 Games in Rio, Manzano wants at least one more go at the global stage.
“I’m so grateful to have so many wonderful people, supporters and sponsors like