Men's 1,500m Reaction: Leo Manzano Talks About His Medal, Matt Centrowitz His Near Miss, Makhloufi, Kiprop, Willis, More
August 7, 2012
Editor's note: We recapped the crazy men's 1,500m, where Taoufik Makhloufi destroyed the field, American Leo Manzano got silver, and Matt Centrowitz just missed the medals here. In our recap we did not include athlete post-race reaction. Post-race reaction is in this article below.
Leo Manzano Talks About His Historic Silver
Leo Manzano's silver medal was the first Olympic medal by the US in the men's 1,500m since 1968.
Leo's race itself was a display of perseverance and belief. The diminutive 5'5" Manzano was bumped around a lot during the race. He said he did not feel good during the race and the key for him was having that magical final 200m.
Despite the moderate pace, Leo said, "It felt like the race was very fast. ... I'm not sure if that was because I was being bumped around." Leo tried not to panic, saying, "I tried to stay focused on staying calm. There were moments of the race where there definitely was some doubt."
Eighth place with 200m to go was not the place Leo Manzano or any of his coaches wanted him to be in. Leo said, "Coming around the turn I asked the big man for some help." Leo's coach Ryan Ponsonby said with 200 to go his thoughts were, "Oh shit."
Leo said, "My legs just felt like they were bricks, but something inside of me just said, 'Keep going, keep going, keep pushing, keep pushing.'"
Leo continued, "As I was coming down the track, I really prayed, 'God give me the strength to push through' and I definitely felt a surge of energy just flow through my body and the next thing I know I'm in second."
Second here of course meant the Olympic silver medal.
Second also meant Leo ran another great race in London. Except for Leo's last race before the Olympics, an abysmal 4:00.78 in the mile for 11th place at the Crystal Palace meet, Leo has always done well in London, getting 3rd in 2011 and 2010 and 2nd in 2009 at the Crystal Palace Diamond League meet. Leo said, "Man, I love London. I've had some of my best races here. ... I know he (Taoufik Makhloufi) won but I feel like I won, too."
For Leo, the work for London 2012 began when he did not make the final at the 2011 World Championships due to a hamstring injury. Leo said, "At the World Championships, my hamstring really blew up on me." It was a month off, then back to work." We'll have more on this later, but Ponsonby said Matt Centrowitz, Jr. making the final last year helped motivate Leo to become a student of the sport and more dedicated to it.
That not only meant studying films of races (Ponsonby said Leo re-watched his semifinal race in London with none other than Bernard Lagat), but also extra work in the weight room. Leo strengthened his back and pelvis to take some of the pressure off his hamstring.
A healthy Leo then put in a lot of work. "I've worked very, very hard to be here," he said. The result was golden in all but medal color.
It may have been the greatest day of Leo Manzano's life, but it was not easy. Leo said, "It was tough, if not the hardest race I've been in," and then pointed to being spiked on his leg.
Leo did not have a perfect explanation for what happened. "I can't really tell you how I came from tenth to second. It still feels like I got first," he said. He pointed out that his uneven performance in round 1, where he had to come up with a big kick just to make the semifinal gave him confidence here.
One thing was certain, this was definitely Leo's day. He said, "You can run this race ten times with everybody in this mix and anyone can win. The stars just have to be aligned for you. Today was definitely my day," the American silver medallist said.
Makhloufi Talks About His Win And His Injury
Much of the post-race discussion surrounding the winner Makhloufi was on his alleged injury, lack of evidence of which got Makhloufi kicked out of the 1,500m final for a brief time on Monday. Makhloufi did not detail what his injury was, but said it was a knee injury.
Via a translator, Makhloufi said on his injury, "Now concerning my injury, I was suffering from an injury and I was told racing (in the 800m) and competing might be dangerous for me. I was told by my doctor. However I insisted and wanted to compete. ... It is true during the 800m that I started and then I stopped. It is true they decided to exclude me from the 1,500m race, but this did not have a huge effect of my morale. ... After the medical tests that I had it as proven that I did suffer from an injury."
Nick Willis wasn't as impressed: "5 minutes before he (Makhloufi) got in the stadium, he got the medical staff to tape him all up" and added "running that fast with an injury is pretty impressive."
"(Tonight) he was obviously hurting but it didn't show the last 300 meters," Willis deadpanned.
As Willis noted once the race was underway, Makhloufi's injury was not a factor. Makhloufi said, "Of course any person who wins a race forgets about his injuries and pains and I forgot about mine and I hope I will continue to undergo treatment for my knee injury and I will be fine."
Once the gun went off, the result was a dominating gold medal victory. Makhloufi was pleased to bring the 1,500m gold back to Algeria for the first time since Noureddine Morceli, who achieved victory in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Makhloufi said, "In the name of God I am very happy to have won this race and I think I have given new hope for the Algerian people and for the Arab people in general. I thank God. I am very happy because I have worked hard and I have seen the results of the hard work."
That hard work included a coaching change to Jama Aden, a former world class miler, the coach of Abubaker Kaki, and the 2008 IAAF middle distance coach of the year. Plus it included a move away from his home in Algeria for the last seven months. Makhloufi said, "At the beginning of the year, I had some difficult decisions. I changed my coach. For seven months I have not seen my family because I have been training in Europe and Africa. My family have only seen me on television."
Bronze medallist Abdalaati Iguider wanted a little more, but he was glad to have left with the bronze instead of being in Matt Centrowitz's spot. Iguider said, "I hoped for something better than the bronze medal but I am very happy with the bronze medal."
Matt Centrowitz After the Near Miss - I Wanted to Win
The guy closest to the bronze medal was the guy who got the bronze medal last year, Matt Centrowitz Jr. .04 seconds separated Centro from the medal stand here. Centro lay on the track on his back after the race, knowing that he had just missed. Then he just leaned on the metal rails before the TV interview area with Nick Willis, wondering what could have been different."
Centrowitz obviously was disappointed to just miss out on the medals, but said, "I wouldn't have done anything differently." He said, "My race in Daegu I wasn't fighting for first place. I was one of those guys who nabbed a medal at the end, picking up scraps. Here I wanted to cover all the top spots, and I think looking at this race compared to last year you can tell I definitely tried to go for the win. That's what I wanted to do, leave it all out there. ... I put myself in position to win it and that is what I wanted to do."
Centrowitz also did not want to hear about how young he was and how many more chances he would have at the Olympics. He said, "Look at all the other guys from the other countries, Kenya, they're all the same age as me. It's great that potentially I'll have a couple of more Olympic experiences. Like I said earlier, you never know what the future is going to bring. ... I know I was in good shape coming in here and I didn't want to look past this Olympics."
Asbel Kiprop is 4 months older than Centrowitz Jr, and Kiprop's experience this year showed what an injury at the wrong time can do.
On Leo flying by him, Centrowitz said, "When the guy went by me with 80 to go, I was surprised it was Leo, but if anyone had to beat me I'm glad it was my countryman."
The difference between Leo and Centro was the final 100m. It was magical for Leo, but for Centro, "That was a tough last straightaway."
Asbel Kiprop On The Kenyan Disaster
Three other guys who left without medals were the three Kenyans who had the three fastest times in the world coming in.
2008 Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop was never a factor. He revealed afterwards what some of the athletes seemed to know, as it had been talked about in the Kenyan papers, that Kiprop suffered a hamstring injury in Kenya (in his last workout in Nairobi the Monday) before the Games. He said, "I had a hamstring pain and I could not manage. It happened before I left Kenya. When I came here to run I felt pain."
Kiprop was a complete non-factor in the race. We wonder if the result could have been different if he had just put himself up front in the race early on, so he'd be focusing on competing instead of his hamstring. Instead, the 2008 Olympic champion was virtually last throughout this race.
Kiprop said he had trouble cooling down after the semifinal, so he knew the possibility of his hamstring bothering him existed (looking at race replays, we think it looks like Kiprop might have been running unevenly, favoring one side throughout, but we'd need a biomechanics expert to weigh in).
One runner who appreciates the greatness of Asbel Kiprop was Leo Manzano. At the press conference, Manzano had this to say about Kiprop: "If anyone deserves to be up here (on the interview dais with the medallists) it is him. ... I love Kiprop and I wanted to see him up there today, but these guys are here and deserve to be here."
Kiprop had some kind words for Manzano as well, after he found out by the media that it was Manzano who took silver. Kiprop said, "When the race is slow, Manzano is capable of kicking and winning the race."
While Kiprop said the weather was not a factor, his countryman Silas Kiplagat said it was one factor that contributed to the Kenyan problems. It rained during the warmup and the track was slightly wet for the race. Kiplagat overall had some perspective saying, "I wasn't happy with results, but what happened today is life."
Olympic Silver Medallist Nick Willis Makes No Excuses
Nick Willis, the 2008 Olympic silver medallist, was another runner who had been running great in 2012, yet was many spots away from the medals. Willis did not have an explanation for his performance. He made no excuses, but looked for an explanation mentioning overconfidence, peaking at the wrong time, or maybe even being in the wrong semifinal. He said, "I felt like I was in perfect position with 500 to go. ... When they finally went I knew I was really muscling it from a long way out. It's really heartbreaking when you've put in so much work all year. ... I just had nothing."
He apologized to the New Zealand people who woke up to watch the race, his wife, and his coach.
He knew he came into London in the best form of his life, saying, "Two and a half weeks ago I ran the best time of my life finishing faster than I did today running six seconds slower so obviously something wasn't right. I just felt really tired."
Nick then said of his performance, "It's a bit embarrassing. I shouldn't be embarrassed because it's an Olympic final, something I dreamed of as a kid."
He noted, "None of us with good early season credentials had it."
In the end, Makhloufi was the one who took home gold and his Olympics was mystifying to us all. Nick said, "I don't know what was going on with Makhloufi."
Leo Celebrates With The American And Mexican Flags And Looks To Rio
A big part of Leo Manzano is his Mexican heritage. Leo, who was brought to the US illegally as a child and became a citizen in 2004, ran the first part of his victory lap with the American flag. Then at some point, he was also given a Mexican flag and he ran with both flags and had both flags with him on the dais at the post-race press conference.
Leo's rags-to-riches story represents the American dream. On the two flags, Leo said, "The US is home and I wouldn't change it for the world, but my roots are in Mexico." Leo later added, "To come from nothing to something is very difficult. ... I've been blessed to have grown up in the US." He wants to be an inspiration for kids everywhere, saying, "I want to show kids that anything is possible." Any that anything includes the first Olympic 1,500m medal in 44 years.
Leo was asked about Rio and said he hopes to be there, as he took Portuguese in college.
Comments, questions, suggestions, or a story you'd like to submit? Email us.