Leonel Manzano of the United States celebrates after winning silver in the Men's 1500m Final on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 7, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature Lausanne, Switzerland

Manzano - 'You have to go in there believing in yourself'

Leo Manzano may carry a pint size stature but the Olympic 1500m silver medallist proved he has a heart as big as his much taller rivals with his celebrated performance at the recent London Games.

At five feet five inches (1.65m) tall, Manzano was dwarfed by his opponents on the start line at the 30th Olympiad, but when it came to keeping his nerve in what was a very tight finish to a slow tactical race, only Taoufik Makhloufi the gold medallist had more pace in his legs in the mad dash for the the line.

The Algerian got the verdict in a time of 3:34.08 but Manzano, who came from a distant sixth coming off the final bend, produced an awesome kick which elevated him to runner-up spot in a season's best 3:34.79.

The US champion, to everyone's delight including many doubting track fans' surprise, clinched Team USA's first 1500m medal since the exciting Jim Ryun himself placed second at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico.

"I just love London – I’ve had several of my best races here and am so glad that I was able to run well again tonight," Manzano said after fulfilling his true potential after his breakthrough season of 2009. "I know (Makhloufi) won, but I feel like I won, too."

At the Athletissima 2012 - Samsung Diamond League in Lausanne on Thursday night (23), Manzano may have been brought back down to earth by Kenyan rivals thirsting for revenge after neither defending Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop nor last year's World Championships silver medallist Silas Kiplagat managed to grab podium places in London.

Although the 27-year-old, feeling a little bit rusty, was relegated to 10th position in the latest leg of the Samsung Diamond League worldwide tour, he remains confident that when it matters most in Championship races he can again come up trumps and prove London was not just a one off performance.

Manzano who took a very short post-Olympic break, said of his silver medal achievement: "I was overcome by many emotions - it just wasn't one. I had a lot of injuries coming in from 2011 I had worked hard on producing a fast finish.

"I was also really was flabbergasted and a little emotional. There was of course a lot of joy and it was just incredible but also some sadness," he revealed.

Explaining the latter feeling, Manzano said, "I had finally done something that a lot of people didn't believe I could do. You look at my size, 5 feet 5 inches. I'm not very tall so a lot of people didn't see me as the guy who could do it."

The Mexican-born athlete who moved with his family at age four to Texas and now lives in Austin, was unperturbed after the Kenyans produced a demolition act in Lausanne, where they placed seven contestants in the top 10 in their pre-event advertised bid to restore lost pride.

"I had a little rust buster just after the Olympics when competing in Warsaw - what a wonderful city - just to get the legs going again. I took a couple of days off so this was actually my first true race," explained Manzano who finished fourth over 800m at the Skolimowska meeting last Sunday.

Manzano, of what is a simple philosophy that paid dividends in the Olympic final, added: "In every race you have to think that you have a chance to win. You have to go in there thinking that you're going to win.

"I knew it was going to be tough but knew I had to put myself in the right position and play my cards right." He terrifically achieved when belting down the home straight and passing much more fancied medal prospects.

"I really love my job," he passionately said. "I have one of the best in the world so I hope to continue that and my racing in Europe all the way up to the 22nd (September) when I've got the Fifth Avenue Mile.

"I'm trying to get into Zurich, it would be great. I'm trying to run an 800m there but I'm sure about competing in Brussels if all goes well."

Manzano hasn't been stateside for a while and has been residing in Teddington, west London, where many Kenyans also base themselves during the European season and a one time haunt of double Olympic champion Mo Farah.

"I haven't been home since July 7 so I kinda stay and live in Europe for two-and-a-half months of the year. Teddington's a great area to run in and do your training sessions at St. Mary's (College) which is not too far away. There's a track and now they have a gym with incredible facilities."

Looking to the future, Manzano, whose personal best stands at 3:32.57, stressed: "I'd like to go in the mile sub 3:50, I'd like to hit under 3:30 for 1500 metres. My goal is to definitely reach that and as soon as possible."

He added: "My greatest strength - I definitely would say it's my finishing kick. I don't think there's many people with that kind of kick and I'm definitely pleased to have it."

Fearing no one, Manzano concluded: "I always want to beat everyone. Every time you step on a track as a competitor you have to take a look at yourself and believe you are as good a competitor. You just can't go into every race thinking you don't have a chance.

"You have to go in there believing in yourself."

That was exactly what he did when producing such a brilliant race in front of 80,000 ecstatic spectators in what was the greatest performance of his career.

David Martin for the IAAF