Former UT champ Leo Manzano breaks away from Jim Ryun's shadow

Posted Tuesday, Aug. 07, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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LONDON -- The hardest part for Leo Manzano on Tuesday night might have been trying to balance two flags. He ended up with the American flag draped over his right shoulder, and the Mexican flag over his left as he celebrated his silver medal in the 1,500 meters.

"Like I tell people, the U.S. is my home, and I wouldn't change it for the world," Manzano said. "But my roots are still in Mexico."

Manzano was born in Mexico, but moved with his family to Texas when he was 4. He was a nine-time Class 4A state champion at Marble Falls before becoming a four-time NCAA champion at the University of Texas.

Now, he is an Olympic silver medalist.

"I've definitely beaten the odds," Manzano, 27, said. "I don't think there are a lot of Hispanics out there -- from Mexico, from South America, from wherever -- who have ever done this. So I'm hoping there's some kid out there who looks at me and says, 'I can do this, too.'"

It had been a long time since any American had done what Manzano did Tuesday.

Although the U.S. now has 14 medals in the 1,500, only five have come in the past century. Team USA had not won a medal of any color in the 1,500 since Jim Ryun won silver in 1968.

"I grew up knowing about Jim Ryun," Manzano said. "A lot of the U.S. distance runners have definitely lived in his shadow."

Manzano, who ran much of the race at the back of the 12-runner field, was only sixth with 150 meters remaining. But he is known for his finishing kick, which he had used for victory over Matt Centrowitz at the U.S. Olympic Trials by running a 53.08 over the final 400.

In a furious sprint to the finish at Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Manzano picked off everyone but Algeria's Taoufik Makhloufi. He crossed in 3:34.79, the fastest an American ever has run the 1,500 at the Olympics.

"My legs just felt like they were bricks," said Manzano, who failed to qualify for the finals in his first Olympics in 2008. "But really something inside me said, 'Keep going; keep going; keep pushing; keep pushing.' As I was coming down the track, I definitely prayed. I said, 'God, give me the strength to push through,' and I definitely felt a surge of energy drawn from my body. The next thing I know I'm in second."

Makhloufi, who finished in 3:34.08, had been disqualified from the Olympics for not trying hard enough in an 800 heat Monday before being reinstated.

"It was the will of God," Makhloufi said. "Yesterday, I was out; today, I was in."

It was hard to determine whether Makhloufi or Manzano was happier. Manzano dropped to his knees and shed tears of joy.

He had finished last in his semifinal of the 1,500 last summer at the IAAF World Championships, limping off not only with an injured left hamstring but also with a bruised ego.

"It's been a long time," Manzano said. "I've been on five U.S. teams now. It's finally my turn. Last year, I came off the track, and I was limping off. From that to this, I couldn't ask for more."

Charean Williams

817-390-7697

Twitter: @NFLCharean

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