This year we are honored to have former Texas Longhorn and 2012 Olympic Silver Medalist as our celebrity guest for the Flrunners.com Invitational 17.
Manzano began his high school career in Texas where he was a nine time state champion at Marble Falls High School. Following graduation he attended the University of Texas where he was able to break the 4-minute barrier as a freshman and won 5 NCAA Championships and 9 All-American titles.
He was third in the 1,500m at the USA Championships in 2006 and made his first Olympic team in 2008 but failed to make it past the semifinals. In 2012, Manzano overcame obstacles to win his first Olympic medal, a silver in the 1,500m at the London Games, the first medal for the U.S. in that event since Jim Ryun's silver in 1968.
He will be on-site both Friday and Saturday taking photos with athletes, signing autographs, handing out awards, starting our Race of Champions, and even helping to judge our famous dance contest! So stop by and say hi!
We caught up with Leo over the weekend for a Q&A session. Here is what he had to say!
Your family immigrated to the US from Mexico when you were 4 and settled in Texas. When did you get your first real taste of running? I read it really clicked in middle school. Do you remember that first race?
Yes, I started running in middle school but it took off in the 7th grade. I had a coach who gave me my first pair of running shoes which before then I had only worn jeans, a dress shirt, and hiking boots to train. I don't remember running my first race but I do remember running in JV as a 7th grader.
This weekend you will get the opportunity to spend a lot of time with younger athletes. What advice do you have for them?
Be a student of the sport, learn as much as you can to improve and better yourself but at the end of the day just have fun.
In high school you won NINE 4A Texas State Championships. We all know Texas is a beast when it comes to the competition levels that come out of the LoneStar. What were some of your favorite moments from high school?
My favorite moment was my toughest coming off the mile and being put on the the mile relay team and still being able to click off 49 to 50 seconds for my split.
How did that high level of competition propel you to the next point in your career attending the University of Texas?
The University of Texas introduced me to what true distance running was. Going from 30 to 40 miles per week to going 70 to 100 miles in college. It was an eye opener.
Was UT always at the top of the list of suitors? Was it important for you to stay in Texas?
Since high school, I had always wanted to go to UT. The University of Texas although they were the last ones to recruit me. When I received the phone call, l was ecstatic. I went to a recruiting trip and signed after.
At UT you won 5 NCAA titles, and you were a 9x All-American. What was your favorite part about being a Longhorn?
My favorite part of being a Longhorn was being part of the athletic dynasty but most importantly being able to have a top notch college education.
The next stage of your career was becoming an Olympian. Before I ask about that, was there a point in your life when you thought hey, I can make the largest stage in the world. I have that potential?
After I won nationals my freshmen year in college, being the first in the country then finishing top 3 in the USA championships that's when I knew that the potential was there.
In 2006, you finished 3rd at the OLY Trials. In 2008, you made your first Olympic team, but failed to make the semifinals. What did you learn from those early experiences?
My first Olympic experience was amazing being one of the youngest guys in the team during that time and then going to my first Olympics and making it to the semifinals gave me the experience to deal with pressure and continue learning through out the next 4 years.
You come back in 2012, but the road to get there wasn't easy. What were the four years leading up to the Games like for you?
There are always many challenges and sacrifices that must be done but where there is a will there is a way.
In your bio, you talk about the 1,500m final. Giving it your all. Overcoming some early challenges. When you collapsed at the line, saw you had a silver medal. Describe that moment and your feelings.
As I crossed the line, I fell down to the ground and felt exhausted, crying tears of joy as I had just won that medal. All the sacrifices had been worth it.
This year in Rio, we saw Matthew Centrowitz win gold in Rio. What's your take on where American distance running is today and where it has come from in year's past?
Alan Webb, helped bring distance running back on the map for USA, then with myself being the first American to win a medal since Jim Ryun. It has been a stepping stone each and step of the way. I hope that moving forward we can all continue to be role models and inspire the next athletes to come through the ranks.
You are currently sponsored by Hoka One One after a time where you were unsponsored for a while. What have they meant in your journey in the sport?
HokaOneOne has been a true game changer not just for myself but for the sport. After not being able to obtain a sponsorship HokaOneOne saved my running career on and off the track. Hoka One One also gave US distance running a breath of fresh air and is now a major sponsor in our sport; sponsoring NYNJ Track club and creating the new HokaOneOne Northern Arizona Elite. They have also showed innovation in their shoes which many companies have now followed.
What's next running wise for you? Do you have any races coming up in the near future?
After being out with many health issues this last year and only having 9 weeks to prepare for the Olympic trails and finishing in fourth by less than a second, which made it the first time in 10 consecutive years to do so, the hunger and potential to continue on for four more years is there. Currently we will probably not race until next year sometime in February.
What are your plans after you are done competing in the sport?
I would love to stay involved with running. Running has been my love and passion and hope to continue on in some capacity.
Friday & Saturday you will be at all the races of our flrunners.com Invitational. When was the last time you were at 5k XC race and what are you looking forward to most about being our special guest?
I don't remember the last time I raced a 5k cross country race, but I am so excited to watch all the athletes go head to head. I love watching the team and pride aspect of cross country running. They are all warriors and I cannot wait to watch the show down!
The Low Down
We wanted to get the inside scoop on Leo not just on the track, but off as well!
What are three things people might not know about you?
1. I am into the saltwater aquarium hobby and have kept aquariums since my college years.
2. I pray and thank God for all his blessings everyday.
3. I love Coca-Cola and like to reward myself after a hard week of work on or off the track.
Do you have a favorite home cooked meal?
Caldo de pollo and home cooked Mexican rice.
What is the best thing about being a professional athlete?
The best thing about being a professional athlete is doing what you love.
You recently traveled to Hawaii for a little R&R. You've seen the world. What's your favorite place to race and or just visit?
Yes, Hawaii was so much fun, I was there for work and also for vacation. My favorite place to race is Monaco. The meet takes such good care of us and we race on one of the fastest tracks in the world.
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