Nov 15, 2020
Leo Manzano’s story should be a simple picture of everything that is beautiful about track and field. Mexican-born, he moved to small-town Texas at a young age and had to negotiate with his father to join the middle school cross country team by agreeing to work over the summer to help his family pay the bills.
Once on that team, he fell in love with the sport, and then with his raw talent combined with grit, determination, perseverance, and lots of hard work, he went on to earn 9 state titles, 5 NCAA championships, 10-straight podium finishes at USAs, 2 Olympic teams, and one history-making silver medal at the London Olympics. Though small in stature at five and a half feet tall, Leo was a giant on the track known for his devastating finishing kick that carried him onto that podium in London and to the front of countless races.
Unfortunately, Leo’s story cannot be told without discussing some of the sport’s darkest shadows. In his first Olympics in Beijing, the gold and silver medalists were later busted for EPO use. In London in 2012, he was beaten by Taoufik Makhloufi who was the subject of great suspicion at the time and is now under investigation by French doping authorities after allegedly being caught with syringes and performance-enhancing substances. Gold medal and national anthem moment stolen.
Even after winning his silver medal, the first Olympic medal by an American in 44 years in the 1500m, Leo’s contract was reduced by Nike because he was deemed “too old” at the age of 27. As a result, Leo let his Nike contract expire but couldn’t find another deal for 18 months as he struggled to find another company that appreciated the value in his story. Meanwhile, he silenced the skeptics in 2014 and won his 2nd national title wearing a singlet with no logos.
Leo ultimately signed with Hoka and is supported by them to this day, even beyond retirement, but we can’t help but wonder why one of America’s greatest milers wasn’t more appreciated in his prime.
In this episode, Leo joins Chris and Shanna to talk about both sides of his incredibly inspiring story. This one is a must-listen as Leo humbly reflects on what led him to become one the most decorated milers in US history while also shining new light on the dark sides of the sport with unique perspective and potential solutions. It’s an honor for us to share Leo’s story.