Leo Manzano of Austin, made his second consecutive US Olympic team by winning the 1500 meters on Sunday night in 3:35.50 at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon. Making the victory even sweeter, it was Manzano’s first US 1500-meter title.
And it couldn’t have come in a more important race for the former Longhorn star from Marble Falls. Leo the Lion, who has been in the top three at the national champs since 2006 but never won, outgunned University of Oregon darling Matthew Centrowitz in the final stretch to secure an Olympic berth and US title. Centrowitz was second and Andrew Wheating—the second fastest native American (3:30.90)—grabbed third.
Oregon TC’s Will McNamara led the first 400 in 57.6 seconds before Will Leer took over through 800 meters (reached in a conservative 1:57.6). Manzano was perfectly positioned in fourth.
Said Leer. “Our plan was to go out relatively conservative and then really wind it up with 700 meters to go and give ourselves an opportunity.”
On the third lap, the field of 12 was tightly bunched as the main contenders appeared to be waiting for the bell lap to begin. At the bell (2:42.30), 11 of the 12 runners were within 1.3 seconds of the lead.
Centrowitz, who followed his father by winning a national title at Oregon, was the first to move. The bronze medalist in the ’11 World Champs took the lead at the bell and clearly looked like he intended to win from the front. Manzano exercised great patience in third place as he watched the leaders for most of the final lap.
As the runners came off the final turn, Centrowitz still maintained the healthy lead, but Manzano was winding up for his one big move.
First, Manzano went by David Torrence and then moved up into position near Centrowitz. The two fought for the lead in the final stretch, but Manzano’s closing speed was too much. Manzano grabbed the lead 20-25 meters from the finish and held on for the biggest win of his life.
His 53.08 for the final lap was decisive and proved the margin of victory over Centrowitz (53.55). Manzano’s winning time of 3:35.75 was a hair faster than Centro’s 3:35.84. Wheating was third in 3:36.68.
“This win is very special to me,” said Manzano afterward. “I’m very emotional because of all the things (i.e., injured hamstring) I went through in 2011. But I feel I’m stronger this year and a better runner.”
And how does Manzano view his medal chances in London? “I think I have a great chance to medal,” he said. “Matt’s medal in the World Champs last year has opened up a lot of eyes and all three of us are definitely going to go for it in London.”
Manzano has two more races in Europe before the London Olympics begin.