JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
BURNET — Olympic medalist and Marble Falls High School graduate Leonel Manzano is using the final weeks of 2015 to get ready for a big 2016.
The USA Track & Field Indoor Championships are in March. The U.S. Olympic Trials are 6½ months away. Manzano has competed in the Olympics twice: the first in 2008 in Beijing; the second in 2012 in London, where he won the silver medal in the 1,500 meters. The 2016 Summer Olympics will be in Rio de Janeiro.
Though the middle-distance runner’s 2015 season ended in the fall, it’s been a busy few months for the Granite Shoals native.
He went to Mexico for a much-needed vacation, flew to Los Angeles to film Olympic promos for NBC and has made numerous appearances across the country.
One of those appearances was at the second annual unBEARable Fun! Run on Dec. 5 at Eagle’s Wings Retreat Center in Burnet, where he ran the course with about 50 racers of all ages — finishing fourth.
He still takes the time to sign autographs and give advice to younger athletes, often putting tips on social media about how he trains to stay sharp.
“I try to give them little hints on how to improve themselves,” he said. “I tell them to be students of the sport, to continue to learn and grow every day.”
Manzano, who graduated from Marble Falls High School in 2004, said he is currently getting back into racing shape even though he works out just about every day. His first race of the new year is the JDL Hilton Garden Invitational on Jan. 30 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
To prepare, he’s been working out with weights and mixing in speed running with longer distances. Most of his workouts are in the morning for about three hours. While he was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he ran the 400 meters 16 times in one day.
“I know what it takes,” he said of being a professional runner. “A lot of sacrifice, many hours in the gym. You’re also talking about hours spent outside.”
It also means continuing to watch his diet, even if he has to turn down his mother’s home cooking, and getting to bed early to ensure his body recharges.
When he turned pro in 2008, only retired U.S. runner Alan Webb had been able to make a living competing in the 1,500 meters. Webb ran the race at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. The race now has so many more runners competing, making it a must-watch for track-and-field fans.
“I came right behind (Webb),” Manzano said about turning pro. “The 1,500 has gained a lot of momentum. It’s a big event in the Olympics. The competition is incredible. U.S. distance running is the best in the world with Kenya.”
His biggest American competition remains Matthew Centrowitz Jr., who was fourth at the 2012 Olympics.
Manzano’s best time in the 1,500 meters is 3:30.98; he clocked 3:34.79 to win the Olympic silver medal in 2012.
For the past 10 years, Manzano has never finished worse than third at the U.S. Championships, a first in U.S. track-and-field history, winning national championships in 2012 and 2014.
Shortly after the 2012 Olympics, he and sponsor Nike parted ways, so the former Texas Longhorn decided to pay his own expenses. That lasted for about 18 months until Hoka One One signed him to help launch its track-and-field shoes. Timex and Coca-Cola followed.
At 31, Manzano is aiming to make his third consecutive U.S. Olympics team.
“Ultimately, it takes a team, it takes a village to make someone successful,” he said. “I do have my community who come out and support me. I continued with my goals of running after I lost my sponsorship. After a year and a half, I was able to find another sponsor. Now, I’m looking to win another national title.”