Leo Manzano, Olympic 1500m silver medalist, retires

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Leo Manzano, who moved from sixth coming around the final curve of the 2012 Olympic 1500m to take silver, has retired at age 34, citing several reasons including a calf injury and a desire to spend more time with his family, specifically 6-year-old son Max.

Manzano said he felt calf tightness while cooling down after a November workout. It was later diagnosed, after multiple doctor visits and to a chiropractor, as a calf heart attack. He decided to retire in February.

“I started coming to these realizations,” Manzano said. “I’m 34 and, looking back, man it’s just been so good [running for two decades], but right now my body is definitely telling me something. I knew I could potentially compete to fight to get through it, but I’m really happy with where I am, and I want to focus a little bit more on what’s next.”

That includes continuing with sponsor Hoka One One as an ambassador and moving into athlete representation. Manzano said he is certified through the IAAF and USA Track and Field.

Manzano was a surprise podium placer at the 2012 London Games, taking the first U.S. medal in the event for a man or woman since Jim Ryun in 1968. He came into the Games ranked outside the top 20 in the 1500m field on fastest times for the year.

But then Manzano passed nine men in the last lap of the final, finishing .71 behind Algerian winner Taoufik Makhloufi.

“The first word that comes to mind is just incredible,” Manzano remembered Sunday. “Even thinking back on it I’m still kind of in awe, maybe a little bit of a shock, right?

“Forever it’ll be one of those races that I still look back on it, and I even get a little motivation out of it as well when things aren’t going right.”

Manzano was born in Guanajuato, Mexico. His father, Jesus, crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico into Texas 16 times searching for work and returning with money to his family until, in 1987, he acquired legal residency. The Manzanos settled in Texas when Leo was 4, and he became a citizen in 2004.

Manzano, at 5 foot 5 with a trademark furious kick, went on to win the 2008 NCAA 1500m at Texas, make his first Olympics in 2008 (eliminated in the semifinals) and win the 2012 Olympic Trials.

After his Olympic silver, Manzano made world championships teams in 2013 and 2015, then was fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials. He counted taking second at 2013 USATF Outdoors, while unsponsored, and clocking his personal best 3:30.98 in 2014 (fifth-fastest performer in U.S. history) as his two highlight races outside of the 2012 Olympics.

Manzano’s last race was at the 2018 USATF Outdoor Championships, where Manzano was eighth in his first-round heat.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”