Finish line not in sight for Olympian Leonel Manzano

JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER

Leonel Manzano after winning a silver medal in the men's 1,500 meters at the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Photo by The Associated Press

Leonel Manzano after winning a silver medal in the men’s 1,500 meters at the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Photo by The Associated Press

AUSTIN — A healthier Leonel Manzano is back to training for the upcoming cross-country and track-and-field seasons.

The 2004 graduate of Marble Falls High School and 2012 Olympic silver medalist is preparing for his ninth year on the professional circuit. He has been to two Olympics: the 2012 London Games, where he finished second in the men’s 1,500 meters, and the 2008 Beijing Games, where he made the 1,500-meter semifinals.

“I feel great,” said the former Granite Shoals resident. “I know I’ve been running for a long time. It’s something I’ve been doing my entire life since the sixth grade. I’ve turned it into my life. I’ve turned it into my job. This is what I enjoy doing.”

He begins training most days at 7:15 a.m. and jokes he’s not quite at his running weight. He still sticks to his diet of grilled chicken, broccoli, and other healthy foods to fuel his body to perform at its best.

The 32-year-old plans to compete in the U.S. Indoor National Championships on March 3-5, 2017.

He has no plans of slowing down.

“It’s a mental thing for me,” he said. “Running has been everything. It’s given me the opportunity to do many things.”

After finishing fourth in 3 minutes 36.62 seconds at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June, just missing this summer’s Rio Games, Manzano headed to Europe to compete until the Olympics began in mid-August. He said all other competitions stop during the Olympics.

Before that, he endured the most challenging spring of his career. Pneumonia after the first of the year forced him to miss nine weeks of training. When he was finally able, Manzano prepared as best he could for the Olympic Trials, considered the toughest in the world.

The former Texas Longhorn missed the third spot on the U.S. roster by less than five-tenths of a second when Ben Blankenship (3:36.18) beat him in a footrace in the final meters.

He said the top four finishers ran the fastest 1,500 meters in the history of the trials.

Once he wrapped up the European circuit, he returned to the United States and competed at the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile in New York in September, where he was ninth in 3:54.5, and at the Florida Runners Invitational at the end of October. He combined the last stop with a trip to Disney World with his son, Max. Between the two events, he also vacationed in Hawaii and visited children who participated in the Maui Mile. He hiked the Hawaiian islands and saw some breathtaking views of Mother Nature.

“Because of my year, I took almost a month off,” he said.

But he didn’t rest for long.

“I’ve been running for so long, it’s become part of my life,” he said. “I enjoy it, and I enjoy that I get to do it.”

He laughed when asked if he has considered retirement or running for a spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic team.

“I ask myself that question every day,” he said with a grin. “I take it year by year. This sport can be difficult. It has provided me with many opportunities. I hope to continue as long as I can. But I’d have to say at least one more Olympics.”

jfierro@thepicayune.com

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