The Olympic 1,500m silver medalist is happy and relieved with his multi-year sponsorship contract.
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From the upbeat sound in his voice, one can tell that 2012 Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano is happy and relieved. It was announced on Wednesday that Manzano, 29, had signed a multi-year contract with HOKA ONE ONE, a performance shoe brand that is a division of Deckers Outdoor Corporation. For the first time in a year and four months, Manzano now has a sponsorship deal and one less thing he has to worry about.
“I feel very, very blessed for this amazing opportunity, and I am very, very grateful that HOKA really stepped up and they believe in me,” Manzano told reporters on a conference call on Thursday. “I’m really excited that I can go in and show my potential, and I think the future is going to be really bright for the both of us.”
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A new sponsorship isn’t the only recent change in Manzano’s athletic career. He is now being coached by John Hayes, formerly of Manzano’s alma mater the University of Texas, and is represented by Hawi Keflezighi of HAWI Management, brother of Olympic marathoner Meb Keflezighi. Previously, Manzano had been self-coached for about a year and was represented by Ricky Simms of PACE Sports Management. For much of his career, Manzano had donned Nike apparel and footwear.
With so many positive changes, Manzano believes the sky is the limit not only in 2014, but also in the years to come. Manzano goals this season are to improve his personal bests at 800m (1:44.56), 1500m (3:32.37), and the mile (3:50.64).
Manzano emphasized that he strongly believes HOKA ONE ONE is a terrific fit for him and his future. By joining the HOKA ONE ONE team, Manzano will be able to assist in the company’s development in track-specific footwear and racing spikes. Previously, the company had primarily targeted ultra-marathoners with ultra-cushioned shoes.
“I’m really excited that I’m going to be working with top notch leaders at HOKA in the shoe development, and again I think the sky’s going to be the limit,” he said. “We are going to be working in conjunction. Of course they are the engineers, the guys that make everything work, but again I do think that I can have some input.”
RELATED: 5 Questions With Hawi Keflezighi
Speaking of his first impressions of HOKA ONE ONE’s shoes, Manzano highlighted how light and responsive they were, especially when running downhill. Today, he ran an 8-mile tempo in a pair of HOKA ONE ONE’s, and noted how minimal shock their was on his knees and back.
Knowing the design process of footwear takes time, Manzano said that he is allowed to race in whatever footwear he sees fit up until HOKA comes out with their line of track spikes. Manzano estimates the spikes to be ready sometime in early July.
In recent months, HOKA ONE ONE has specifically targeted the track realm, aligning with athletes and events that associate with the mile distance, Manzano’s specialty. On February 27, it was announced that HOKA ONE ONE had partnered with Bring Back The Mile, the national campaign who’s goal it is to “elevate and celebrate the iconic distance.” Also in February, the company signed Mike Rutt and Nicole Schappert, two middle-distance specialists who are members of the New Jersey/New York Track Club.
“I think it’s a great move. When you talk about the mile, it’s one of the prime events. If you’re into running, you have to make the mile, like, part of your event or part of your strategy as a company,” said Manzano.
Speaking for nearly a half hour, Manzano described the last 16 months without a sponsor, and the challenges that resulted from not having a shoe or apparel deal.
“Being without a sponsor, it’s very, very difficult,” he said in a tone that signaled tough, frustrating times. “There are a lot of expenses you have to cover, anything and everything that you can think of from shoes to vitamins to trips, and it can be very expensive. After a while you start second guessing yourself, and you think ‘is this really how it’s going to be, is it going to happen?’”
“Having HOKA on my side has really relieved a lot of stress on my part and now I can really just focus on what matters and that’s really focusing on my training. It gives me big confidence because I know that now I’ll be able to work to my full potential,” he said.
Partnering with coach Hayes, Manzano plans to reach that potential at various events throughout the season, including the B.A.A. Invitational Mile in Boston (a road mile), the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, the IAAF World Relays meet in the Bahamas, and the USA Championships in Sacramento.
Manzano was hesitant to speak on the specific aspects of his new contract, though did say that he is very satisfied with his compensation and that it will be up to him to perform so that he does well financially.
“I’m going to thank everyone that supported me,” he said. “To HOKA for believing me and giving me that confidence back. Now I feel like I can go get back on the track and go perform like I used and like I need to. And like I will.”