Leo Manzano had never even run eight miles before the Texas track and field team recruited him in 2004.
“He hadn’t had the conditioning program that he was going to have at the University, lets put it that way,” said Bubba Thornton, former Longhorn track and field head coach. “[Former distance coach Jason Vigilante] had said we knew that Leo was going to be really good. We weren’t for sure that he was going to be great.”
But eight years and four NCAA championships later, Manzano stood upon an Olympic podium in London clad in a silver medal after a closing surge in the 1500-meter final.
“He’s not a quitter,” Manzano’s coach John Hayes said. “That helped him get that silver medal. He could have easily quit in that race.”
Manzano, who graduated from Texas in 2008 with Spanish and Portuguese degrees and a minor in business, ended the summer of 2012 by medaling in the most important race of his career. But just a few months later, his future was thrown into jeopardy.
Manzano was unable to renegotiate his contract and lost his running sponsorship with Nike in November 2012. He was left scrambling to find the resources necessary to travel to races and hire an Olympic-caliber trainer.
“There was a lot of self-doubt [and] a feeling of inadequacy just because you know that you’ve accomplished one of the most important highlights of your career, winning a medal for the U.S.,” Manzano said. “It was very difficult.”
The “never quit” attitude Hayes saw in London kept Manzano on the track for a year and a half without a sponsor.
Manzano’s business minor paid handsome dividends in his quest to return to the top of this sport.
After almost a year without a sponsor, Manzano used T-shirt sales to fund his training and balanced business administration with the task of maintaining Olympic-level fitness.
Finally, in April 2014, sponsorships from French shoe company Hoka One One and watch company Timex brought stability to his career.
Manzano now views his rough year as a period of growth.
“It was an experience that I wouldn’t change for the world,” Manzano said. “I really do think that it made me stronger as a person.”
The new sponsorships also brought new challenges, however.
Now, Manzano has to balance attending sponsorship events, working as a celebrity ambassador for the Marathon Kids charity and even attending movie premieres on top of the huge time commitment and rigorous training regiment being a top-flight Olympian requires.
“There’s a lot more that comes with being a silver medalist,” Manzano said. “I am very fortunate and always very grateful that I was able to accomplish that, but there has been a lot more work that has come with it as well.”
With new sponsorships in hand and a new coach, Manzano has his sights set on the Olympics — this time the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“That’s my next goal,” Manzano said. “I studied Portuguese at the University of Texas, so I’m hoping to use it wisely if all goes well and I make it to Rio.”