Mexican-American athlete Leo Manzano made history this year by winning the silver medal in the 1,500 meter race at the London Olympics, but before and after that accomplishment a great part of his efforts have focused on inspiring other young people to follow in his footsteps.
Manzano, brought to the United States by his parents when he was 4 years old, became the first U.S. athlete to win a medal in the 1,500 meters in more than 40 years.
“I felt very proud of being able to bring that record to the United States,” the athlete - who wrapped himself in the U.S. and Mexican flags at the end of the race - told Efe.
Manzano crossed the finish line 0.71 seconds after Algeria’s Taofik Makhloufi.
The last time an American athlete won a medal in the 1,500 meters was in the 1968 Games in Mexico City, where Jim Ryun came in second to Kenya’s Kipchoge Keino.
Manzano, who constantly keeps his fans informed via the social networks both in Spanish and in English, also expressed his sense of pride and responsibility at representing the Hispanic community.
“I hope that others see my road and see that just like I was able to achieve this triumph, they can also do so and be inspired to fight,” said Manzano, who has been competing professionally since 2008.
He especially hopes that young Latinos take note that they can have a future in sports.
Manzano is also collaborating with the Texas Heart Institute on an initiative aimed at urging children to stay physically active.
“It’s very important to inform our community about how to maintain a healthy heart, especially among Hispanics, who have more risk of suffering from heart diseases, high blood pressure and diabetes,” he said.
Although Manzano currently finds himself at the peak of his sports career, he admits that he had to overcome many barriers to get to this point.
Standing only 5 feet 4 inches tall but with a heart the size of someone more than a foot taller, Manzano has commonly been described by his fans as “a (Ford) Pinto with the motor of a Ferrari.”
The athlete said that although having a large heart is an advantage on the track, this is not the result of genetics but rather is due to intense training and dedication.
“I wasn’t born with a large heart. I’ve had to work a lot and make many sacrifices to (develop) the heart that has helped me to obtain many of the victories I’ve achieved,” he said.
A study carried out in 2008 at the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Texas found that Manzano’s heart can use 82.2 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram per minute, a rate that few athletes in the world can achieve.