Two things made me very happy yesterday:
1. Seeing Mexico beat Japan in the semi-finals to advance to the finals in men’s soccer. Mexico will face Brazil in the finals on Saturday morning (7 PDT).
2. Seeing Leonel Manzano win silver in the men’s 1500m race. He went from about 10th place with one lap remaining to passing up several men for a surprise second place finish. Leo’s is the first American to medal in the men’s 1500m since 1968. He also set an American Olympic record for the distance. [Replay of the race here.]
I didn’t start following professional running until last year, maybe the year before. I was looking around the USAAF website’s diversity page and checking out their list of Latino athletes. Leo Manzano was there. I looked him up and immediately took a liking to him just based on the Guanajuato roots. Mexicans are really big on home state and hometown pride. I added him to my short list of running heroes.
As a four year old Leo migrated with his family (sin papeles according to some stories) from Dolores-Hidalgo, Guanajuato to Texas. That migration story reminds me of my father and his family. Dad was just a couple years older when my grandparents uprooted the family from Salamanca, Guanajuato to south Texas.
I was nervous as I watched the runners lined up yesterday afternoon. I found it endearing that Leo crossed himself and said a quick prayer. He may be one of the fastest Mexicans out there, but he’s not that different from the rest of us. (Okay, his pre-race ritual does make him a little different.)
I teared up watching Leo’s amazing kick. I would’ve yelled and high-fived someone, but no one was around. I settled for fist pumping.
Reading stories about the race and watching post-race interviews made me even happier for him.
About his faith
“I felt like I was 10th or 11th,” he said. “I knew I was in the back. I just kept praying, saying, ‘Heavenly Father, help me. Push me. Give me the strength to keep going.’
“My kick has always been there. Ever since I was maybe 12 years old, I’ve had this major gift from God. I guess sometimes it’s just been kind of overlooked.”
In an interview with Flotrack he admitted to being very religious. He talked about his short prayer and said, he felt a surge of energy for the kick in the final 60 meters or so.
I could relate. I’ve felt something — adrenaline, energy gel kicking in, God, spirit of my grandparents… who knows — kick in late in a race and help me to finish strong. I even made a line from a hymn I heard in Mass my motivational mantra (“we will run and not grow weary / For our God will be our strength”). It worked.
About his roots
Leo admitted in post-race interviews that he planned to hold up the flags of his adopted country and birth country if he won gold or silver. Sure enough, he took the American flag first and then held up the Mexican flag while jogging his honor lap around the stadium.
The U.S. is my home, and I wouldn’t change it for anything,” he said. “But my roots are still in Mexico. I love both countries. They both have a piece of my heart.
I think it’s fitting that Leo won silver. After all, his roots are in a state with a silver mining history.