Leo Manzano did not win the gold medal in the 1,500 meters Tuesday, but down the stretch, he stormed to a silver medal of historic proportions.
Manzano, who was near the back of the 12-man field, caught and passed everyone except winner Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria to take the first silver medal for the U.S. in the event since Jim Ryun made the podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
Makhloufi's winning time was 3 minutes, 34.08 seconds while Manzano clocked a season best of 3:34.79.
"I knew I was in the back, and I knew I just had to fly off the curve and get some momentum. I think I saw three guys in front of me and I knew my legs just felt like they were bricks, but something inside me said keep going, keep going, keep pushing, keep pushing, and as I was coming down the track I definitely prayed.
"I felt a surge of energy just going through my body, and the next thing I know, I'm in second."
After the biggest race of his career and the best day of his life, Manzano knelt on the track and then celebrated while displaying the flags of the United States and Mexico. Manzano's family moved from Mexico to Texas when he was four.
"The U.S. is my home and I wouldn't change it for the world, but my roots are still in Mexico. They both have a piece of my heart," said Manzano, who starred at Marble Falls High School before competing for the University of Texas.
Matthew Centrowitz's fourth-place finish would have been the best by a U.S. runner since Ryun except for the stirring run of Manzano. The last U.S. runner to fare better than Manzano in the Olympic men's 1,500 was Mel Sheppard, who won his gold way back in 1908, right here in London.
For Manzano, this triumph has been a long time coming. At 27, he was the second-oldest runner in the field and was coming off an injury-plagued 2011 season. This year, he rebounded to win both the indoor and outdoor national titles, the latter coming when he finished first at the U.S. Olympic trials in Oregon.
"I've probably been on four or five U.S. teams now, and now it's finally my turn," he said. "Last year, I came off the track and I was limping off the track, so from that to this, I couldn't ask for more."
Perhaps even more stunning than Manzano's second-place finish was the meltdown of a trio of Kenyan runners.
Asbel Kiprop entered the race as the reigning champion. At the Beijing Games in 2008, Kiprop finished second to Bahrain's Rashid Ramzi, but Ramzi was later stripped of his gold medal for using a performance-enhancing drug. His disqualification made Kiprop, at 19 years and 50 days, the youngest men's 1,500 winner in Olympic history. On a chilly night here, however, Kiprop finished dead last, and the two other Kenyan runners didn't crack the top six.
New Zealand's Nick Willis was the silver-medalist four years ago could do no better than ninth.
"In these types of races, in championship races, you never know what's going to happen," Manzano said. "There were moments in the race where I really didn't know what was going to happen. I just knew I needed to stay tough, stay strong and really just keep pushing through."
Manzano used the track savvy that he has picked up in the four years since he failed to make the 1,500 final in Beijing and his incredible kick, a gift he said he has had since he was about 12.
He said his silver medal could signal a long-awaited revival for the U.S. in middle-distance events.
"I definitely hope this is a turning point for everybody," Manzano said. "I hope there's some kid out there sitting on a couch, watching this race and (he) said, 'Hey, one day I can do that as well.' "
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