Leo Manzano: An American love story, Part 2/2, The Business of Running, by Max Lockwood

Leo Manzano wins the NIKE International Mile, May 31, 2014, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

Leo Manzano, NIKE International Mile, May 31, 2014, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

Leo Manzano is an Olympic silver medalist in the 1,500 meters. That, is a fact. Leo Manzano won the Nike International Mile at the Pre Classic on Saturday, May 31, 2014, showing that Leo Manzano is a fine miler with a dangerous kick. 

Max Lockwood, in his two part feature on Leo Manzano shows that, like many elite athletes, there is much more to Mr. Manzano than a 3:52 mile. 

Leo Manzano as Professional Athlete and the Business of Running.

Leo Manzano as professional athlete and the business of Professional Running


Leo Manzano, NIKE International Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net

As viewers and spectators of sport, we are often engrossed with the performance of the athletes.  They are fierce warriors who take their talents to the field and perform with admirable might and strength.  This is the view of an observer. Often, though, we do not know about the severe stress professional athletes are under to perform at the highest levels in order to get paid and make a decent living.  Leo Manzano's story is no different.  

In the professional ranks of running, in addition to their athletic prowess, our athletes are more and more placed into the position of business people who must leverage their own skills and talent for money.  In many cases, they must hire agents who negotiate on their behalf.  For Leo, a top tier runner in the prime of his career, finding a good agent to negotiate on his behalf was and is essential. 

As a young, idealistic and committed athlete coming out of college, Leo Manzano saw only good things on the horizon.  He was a champion at the collegiate level, loved the sport of running and was fully confident in his abilities to compete at the highest levels.  Upon graduation, he signed with a well-known agent who represented many other great pro runners.  Leo figured that going with a known commodity who was well regarded in the sport was the way to go and would help him get a good contract with a shoe company.  Leo was correct, at least in the beginning. Nike signed Leo and their love affair began.  

Leo's career as a Nike athlete was good and of course, the highlight was the silver medal in 2012.  Soon after getting his silver medal his contract was up for renewal.  Leo felt assured he would be compensated for his performance by getting a higher paying contract.  After all, he was loyal, had worked hard and more importantly, performed well at the highest level.  To his surprise and disappointment, the amount of money Nike offered him was less than what he wanted and felt he deserved.  Though I did not get specific numbers from Leo, it is clear, he felt undervalued by an employer to which he was so loyal.  Negotiations continued to stall and eventually Leo found himself without a shoe sponsor. 

Leo was without a sponsor and on his own at the age of 28.  He had a child to support, bills to pay and was not prepared for a life without running.  When I prompted Leo to elaborate more about his disappointment, Leo had this to say. "Max, I have nothing bad to say about Nike.  They paid me, gave me free product and enabled me to see this country, travel the world and compete at the highest levels in professional running.  However, I do feel I should have gotten a higher paying contract after my initial contract was up.  Think about it, when other professionals and business people perform well they earn more money, at least this is the way it is supposed to be.  The same scenario should be applied to professional running.  Well obviously this is not always the case."


Leo Manzano, NIKE International Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net

Surviving without a contract and finding a new business partner, HOKA ONE ONE.

For one year Leo managed to survive without a contract. He had some savings and sold shirts on the side.  He continued to train and race but his performances were not to his liking. As time went along, doubt continued to seep in. He retained his current agent and figured other companies would come forward, but it was not happening.  Says Leo. "Max, I felt lost and my confidence was really down.  I thought I deserved much more.  My performances to date were strong and I was not damaged goods. I am really surprised nobody was coming my way with any offers. During this period I met Hawi(Merhawi) Keflezighi.  At first, we just said hello in passing.  As time went along we reconnected.  I liked what Hawi had to say and the next thing I know, he was my agent and an offer came along from HOKA ONE ONE.  

Regarding HOKA ONE ONE, as you might imagine, I was a little reluctant at first. I had been running in traditional shoes from Nike for so long I was not sure about the HOKAs.  However, Jim Van Dine, the president of the brand, reached out to me and sent me some shoes to sample. I got them and began running.  The rest is history and I am now running for HOKA ONE ONE."

Leo officially signed up with Hawi as a manager on March 10th and with HOKA ONE ONE as a sponsor on April 10, 2014.   Aside from running in a great shoe, being signed by a company and knowing he has a coach and team of supporters in his corner is a huge plus for Leo.  He loves it.  He loves being part of a team.  Says Leo. "Max, my confidence is back. I want to perform. I have a new coach, John Hayes, who is in my corner, Hawi is right there and the folks at HOKA ONE ONE are absolutely the best."

During the time I spoke with Leo, I came away with wonderful insight into the difficulties and joys of being a professional runner, no matter what their talent and success might be.  I learned about perseverance and gained respect for the discipline needed to 1) Be a professional runner 2) Be a thoughtful and caring family person and 3) The absolute essential importance of remaining true to one's goals and ideals.

Since signing with HOKA ONE ONE it is clear Leo's confidence is 100 percent better. At the BAA mile, run the day before the Boston Marathon, Leo came in 3rd place and just a few days later at the USA mile championships in Des Moines Iowa, Leo won the race.  (Editor's update: On May 24, Leo was part of the 4x1500m USA team at the World Relays in the Bahamas, winning the silver medal. On May 31, Leo ran a 3:52.41 to win the NIKE International Mile)

And so, though it is not always true perhaps there is validity and truth to the notion that for those who stay focused, have a dream and are committed to being successful, good things will happen.  This certainly seems to be the case for Leo Manzano.

Leo Manzano, HOKA ONE ONE athlete and an American Love Story.

Below is a list of Leo's 10 most noteworthy accomplishments.  

1. 1500m 2012 Olympic Silver Medal 

2. 1500m USA 2008 Beijing Olympic Team

3. 1500m USA Olympic Trails Champion 2012
4. Breaking 4 minutes in the Mile, in Lincoln Nebraska 2005

5. Running 3:50 in the Mile -  London 2010 

6. Running 1:44 in the 800M - Berlin 2010

7. 1500m  2008 NCAA Champion Des Moines, Iowa

8. 1500m 2005 NCAA Champion Sacramento, California

9.1500m Indoor National Champion 2012

10. NCAA Indoor DMR American/College Record

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