Monday, September 27, 2010

Leo Manzano

Reported by Peter Gambaccini for RunnersWorld
Leo Manzano, 26, closed out his 2010 European track season in remarkably impressive fashion, setting new personal bests for the mile (3:50.64), 1500 meters (3:32.37, a second place in Brussels behind Olympic gold medalist Asbel Kiprop), and 800 meters (1:44.56). Manzano finished the season on September 4 with a third place in the 1500 at the Continental Cup in Croatia. Back in the winter, he'd won the 1500 at the USA Indoor Championships. At the University of Texas, Manzano was an NCAA champion in the 2005 and 2008 in the 1500 outdoors; at the NCAA Indoor Championships, he twice won the mile and was a member of Texas' victorious 2008 Distance Medley Relay. He also won a total of ten Big 12 titles. He was second in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials and had been second at the 2007 USA Championships in the 1500. Manzano was 12th in his semifinal at the Beijing Olympics; he was 12th in the final at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. In high school in Marble Falls, Texas, he was a nine-time Texas 4A champion. Manzano was interviewed at a press conference a couple of days before the Fifth Avenue in New York, where he finished fifth in 3:54.17.

Coming into the Fifth Avenue, did you still feel fresh, or do you think "well, it's all over after Sunday, and I can just collapse?"
Leo Manzano: I think anytime you're faced with competition, subconsciously, you're ready to go. So I see guys like Nick (Willis) just walk by or Andrew Baddeley and it's like "alright, we're in the zone again"

We used to be lucky if I we saw one American in an 800 or a 1500 in Europe. Now there are quite a few. And they've earned it. Race directors are happy to have them. You've been at it long enough to see a change. When you started going over there, there probably wasn't much of an American presence.
LM: My first year, there weren't really that many guys. People were starting to talk about the Americans, how there was a lot of potential and this and that. But it was kind of like a baby force. You didn't really see much. But I think it was really this year when you really got to see a lot of it take place and the thought that had been there last year just flowered.

Your PR in the 1500, the 3:32, came in Brussels near the end of the year. Was it largely a matter of racing yourself into shape?
LM: Maybe yes and no. Physically, I'm always there, I think. Mentally, there might be some things I have to work on. But we train nonstop, and I know we put in the work. I wasn't overly surprised with the time. I think I can still go faster. But definitely, the mental aspect has got to be there.

This (the 1500) is another event that has new people coming in all the time. There's Silas Kiplagat (from Kenya), and there's Also Andrew Wheating. As far as you're concerned, is it "the more, the merrier, let's just all run faster?"
LM: I love it. It makes track and field interesting. If you think about it, if it was the same old people all the time, it wouldn't be as fresh. And the fact that you've got Andrew, you've got Alan Webb coming back, I mean, that just makes the sport even better. It makes it that much more fun and interesting.

Your closing speed was so noticeable in several races this year. Is it something you've worked on a lot this year?
LM: My closing speed has always been there. But definitely, I think there is a mental aspect of being able to run with a lot of the African runners. They're just so talented and so good. Sometimes, as Americans, we tend to put barriers on ourselves, that we just can't do it. But I think it was kind of a progression where I got thrown in with the guys and I had to figure things out about myself, and mentally, it really opened a lot of doors and the barriers just went away. And it was like "man, I run with these guys, there's no reason why I can't." So the next thing I know, I'm finding myself up toward the front. The speed has always been there, though.

Was that a realization that came to you gradually, or was there almost a "Eureka" moment, one particular race or one particular day when you realized you belonged? We remember you winning the New York Grand Prix in 2009 against a really good field. We thought that must have been like 'Holy Cow" for you.
LM: I think I run really well when I take it back to the basics, and I think that's what running should be all about, about just having fun doing. When you start thinking about time and who's in the race and all this clutter of information that's really useless, it's not really helping out your cause. When you think about being on the playground and being like "hey, let's go touch the tree" or "let's just race to the fence," I just want to take it back to those times and must make fun with it. And all the sudden, you're not thinking about anything except running.

Was the sport always fun for you, even when you started doing it as a kid?
LM: I loved it. I remember racing my grandfather back in Mexico (at "about three or four"). One thing I didn't like of course, is he'd always beat me. I think I've always been very competitive. I've always enjoyed running.

This year, I had hit a little bump in the road where it was "man, is this really what I want to do? Is this what I really like?" After awhile, you train so much and you put in all these hours, and it's just like "wow, am I seeing results, is this what I want to all," and all the sudden, it becomes really tough to stay focused and to have fun with it and enjoy it because of all the work load. But after awhile, you have to realize "man, I have one of the coolest jobs in the world." I could be sitting at an office or going and working construction and doing something that I probably wouldn't enjoy, you know? You realize that like "wow, yeah, I need to take it back to basics and enjoy myself."

People must have told you that if you're going to be in the sport for a number of years, you will hit a stale patch, inevitably – and maybe on the other side of that, there will be really good results. You weren't really worried about that, were you?
LM: No. The thing is, I feel like you're going to have ups and downs. And even when you have the real lows within the sport, that just helps you appreciate the highs. Looking back on Pre (the Prefontaine Classic) and Monaco, those were horrible races for me, but I feel like I turned it around and made it into a very positive season. Things went really well for me, and I think the highs outdid the lows.