Wednesday 28 June 2017

Manzano's joy in running for two countries

Life hasn't always been easy for the USA's Mexican-born medalist, says Dion Fanning

Outside the Olympic Village on Wednesday night, in front of the train station, a man was talking to friends. There was nothing unusual in that except he was wearing a silver medal around his neck. Leo Manzano was born in Mexico. In the 1500m last week, he won the USA's first medal in distance running since the Games were held in his homeland 44 years ago.

Outside the train station, his medal becomes a draw and soon he is surrounded. People pose with him for pictures. They ask him who he is and what he does. "I run the one thousand five hundred metres," he says.

You ask him if you can interview him. He says of course and suggests we walk back through security and back to the village. He doesn't mind the attention but you can tell he wants to protect his medal.

As we talk, he is preoccupied for a while. "I'm sorry I'm not looking at you," he says. He is trying to fold his medal correctly into the leather Olympic case. It takes some time to get the ribbon right without crumpling the printed note which states that this is an Olympic medal.

When Manzano was four years old, his parents left central Mexico and headed for Texas.

For a while, they were illegal immigrants. If Britain had a new appreciation for multiculturalism after athletes like Mo Farah won gold, America looked on illegals from Mexico differently, for a while, when Manzano celebrated his medal by doing a lap of honour holding the Stars and Stripes and the Mexican flag.

"The US is my home and I wouldn't trade it for the world, but Mexico is where my roots are. I was running for two countries."

When he started running, his family thought he was a shirker. "The way they were brought up, sport was something you did if you had some spare time, you didn't spend all you time doing it. The fact that I was running, at first they didn't take too kindly to it."

Soon they started noticing that the son they thought was lazy was winning championships and they realised what he was going to do with his life.

"There are a lot of people in the same situation. It's hard because it's a very difficult life. You are looking for a better life. You play that with the politics and it sort of goes crazy. I think one of the biggest things I did was taking the two flags and running with them."

The feeling since his medal is extraordinary, he says. "To get here is a blessing."

He came second to Taoufik Makhloufi, the Algerian who was disqualified initially because of the manner in which he dropped out of the 800m before being reinstated. There are other questions asked about him too.

"I told myself, whether he ran or not, I had to run my own race. You hear a lot of talk, I can't comment on his situation but the great thing about the Olympics is that there are drug tests and they won't lie, hopefully."

He thinks about what it means for his family to see him run. "It was a really rough life in Mexico and my parents wanted something better for us. They wanted us to go to school, maybe some day go to college. Sure enough, we're doing that. I was the first person in my family to graduate, I was the first person in my family to get a scholarship," he pauses for a second, clutching his silver medal, "and I was the first person in my family to run in the Olympics."

A minute later, Olympic silver medallist Leo Manzano heads back to the village and, for a moment, you understand the great thing about the Olympic Games.

Sunday Indo Sport

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