Where Your Dreams Become Reality
Q&A With Leo Manzano
2008 Olympic Trials 1,500 meter runner-up Leonel Manzano is in Dalian, China as he prepares for the 2008 Olympic Games. A two-time NCAA Outdoor champion, Manzano spoke to the media recently. Below are excerpts of the conversation. For a full bio of Manzano and all Team USA track & field athletes, visit http://www.usatf.org/events/2008/OlympicGames/roster.asp.
Q: How are you feeling now that you are here (in Dalian) and you're an Olympian?
A: This is my first year really to run professionally and this is really my first showing and what better meet to do that at than the Olympics. It is really exciting to be here and be rested. We showed up two days ago and did a lot of processing and traveling and now I'm trying to rest. I feel a whole lot better.
Q: What were your preparations in the build-up to Beijing?
A: It was really tough for me. Being a collegiate, you're going to school and you just have to deal with just like another life. Not being a professional, I just didn't have as much time to you know get in the weight room or to do a lot. Building up to the Olympic Trials was kind of tough for me because it didn't seem like I had that much time. We're gone every other weekend. It was hard to get some really good training in. I knew when I stepped on the line at the Trials that I was just going to give it the best that I had and I guess my best shot was good enough.
Q: What was the competition like at the Trials for you?
A: I took it in a series of steps. We had the prelim, the semifinal and the final. In the prelim and the semifinal I knew the only thing I had to do was advance to the final. I felt good in the rounds and it was just about advancing. In the final though I knew that it was go time. I knew that to run against these guys that you can't give an inch. I knew that my best chance if it was a tactical race was to be up front. It was probably one of the most aggressive races that I have ever been in. I would say it was even more aggressive than my race in Osaka last year in the World Championships. There was anything from elbows to people kicking your heel.
Q: Did your finish in the Olympic Trials shock you?
A: I knew I was going to do well but I didn't know how well. Those guys in the race, Bernard Lagat, Lopez Lomong, Alan Webb, are just awesome. Every time they compete you know the race is going to be a battle. I think I was on the radar, but kind of in the back. Just one of those guys that might have a chance, might have an opportunity and I think I was kind of overlooked but that's OK. Everything went well and I got second to the reigning world champ.
Q: Was Osaka the race where "the light went on" and you realized you were in a different league now?
A: Going from collegiate running to professional, it's a totally difference ball game. In collegiate running, any elbow or big-time pushing and you're out. You don't want to mess up in collegiate running. Running against professionals and the best in the world, they're not going to give an inch. There's an intimidation factor there. They are going to fight every step of the way for the good position.
Q: Did you learn anything from Osaka?
A: Be tough. It doesn't really matter who you are running against. If you have to be aggressive, be aggressive. Just be tough. So that's what we are hopefully going to do.
Q: You were born in Mexico, when did your family move to the States?
A: My family immigrated to the States when I was four. I've lived here almost all my life. I really feel like I'm more American. I still have my roots, my culture, I speak Spanish, but America is my home.
Q: Is any of your family able to come to China for the Games?
A: I'm really excited because my parents have never really been out of the country, aside from Mexico, and they've never been on a plane. They're fixing to come to China and it's going to be a long flight for them and my mom gets car sick so this might be an ordeal for them. They were sponsored by my dad's company, H.B. Zachary. He's been working for them for almost 19 years and our town in Texas had a fundraiser and they've been really helpful too. My mom, dad and little brother are coming over.
Q: What are your aspirations now that you are here?
A: Anything can happen. It is a fight. This is probably going to be one of the most tactical races that I have ever been in. I think I can do well. I'm going to go in and stay positive. I'm not going to say how well but I'm going to stay positive and just try to make it out of the rounds. If all goes well I should hopefully be in the final.
Q: What about after the Games? Have you got a manager and a sponsor?
A: I'm with Ricky Simms now and I have a contract with Nike. I went professional about four or five days before the Olympic Trials. After the Trials, I decided to stay in the U.S. and have some great workouts. Everything is feeling stronger that ever. (Running on the circuit after the Games) is really going to depend on how I do here. Running collegiately, your seasons tend to be really long. I've been running since this time last year. I ran cross country in the fall and then indoors and then right into outdoors.
Q: How did you get in to running?
I've always liked running since I was little. It was never like I'm
going to be competitive, I just enjoyed it. As you grow up in the
Hispanic culture, you're expected to work. Every summer from when I was
12 up through high school I had a job in the summer. When I first
started running, I remember tell my parents I was joining this thing
called track and field and they were like what is that. They didn't
really know what was going on and I just told them I was going to go
run. And they were actually kind of mad at me. Coming from such a small
village they didn't realize where track and field could take me. In the
first year or two they started noticing how it was taking me places. I
started winning little meets in the area and I was in the newspapers.
After that, when they started noticing it, they totally changed. They
were so supportive and were there for anything I needed. But I had a
job, I went to school and I ran on top of that.