FROM STAFF REPORTS
EUGENE, Oregon — Less than a second separated Marble Falls High School graduate Leonel Manzano from a third straight Olympics.
At the Olympic Trails in Eugene, Oregon, Manzano, a former Granite Shoals resident, was fourth in the men’s 1,500 meters in 3 minutes 36.62 seconds on July 10, just behind third-place finisher Ben Blankenship, who crossed the line at 3:36.18.
Manzano’s longtime rival Matthew Centrowitz won the race in 3:34.09 with a record-setting time, while Robby Andrews was second in 3:34.88.
Those three will represent the United States in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August in the men’s 1,500-meter race.
Manzano and Blankenship were in a foot race after the last turn for the final spot on the team. But with only several meters remaining, Blankenship pulled ahead.
The race was one of the toughest because of the talent on display. And to add intrigue to the final, Manzano was one of only about a handful of athletes who had finished it in the Olympic standard of 3:36.20, which is required to compete in the Olympic games. So the race began faster to ensure standard times were met by the top three finishers.
All of the top three athletes, however, had already met the Olympic standard prior to the finals.
As the gun sounded to begin the race, the runners immediately began to position themselves in order so there was some pushing and shoving.
Manzano was seventh after the first lap, sixth after the first turn, fifth behind Centrowitz after the second and fourth as the bell rang to signal the final lap.
At the first turn on the final lap, the former Mustang pushed into third. But Blankenship, who was running toward the back of the pack, meticulously began to move toward the front as the last lap started.
By the final turn, the top four runners had separated from the rest. To illustrate how fast the final lap was, it was finished in 53 seconds.
Centrowitz led the whole race.
Manzano was fourth in his semifinal race in 3:44.57 on July 8 and passed a couple of runners after the final turn. He had to finish in the top five to advance to the final. Experts called the heat in which Manzano ran the tougher of the two semifinals because of the number of quality runners. U.S. Track and Field officials used the fastest qualifying times from the past few months to pit the best runners against each other. In his opening race July 7, Manzano was second in 3:42.28. As the race began, he was third and then sixth in the first turn, but he refused to let anyone pass him.
The former Mustang was fifth in the last turn during the second lap, fourth in the first turn of the third lap and third as the bell rung to signal the final lap.
Each time Manzano took the track, he ran in the rain.
Manzano competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics. He won the silver medal in 1,500 meters in the 2012 games.