Boardman High School and Notre Dame College graduate Mike Mannozzi claimed his second national race-walking title in a row when he won the 75th annual United States Track and Field Association’s 40K (24.8 miles) national race-walking championship held last Saturday at Joe Palaia Park in Ocean Township, New Jersey.
Mannozzi, 27, went into the race with a goal of establishing a personal-best time at the distance, and hoping to finish in the top-five, performed even better, claiming his victory in a time of 3-hours, 28-minutes and 48-seconds, the best time in six years in the race.
He gained the lead in the race after the first kilometer and never relinquished it.
“I went into the race figuring to maintain a slow pace, hoping to finish faster than when I started,” said the race-walker, whose goal is gaining an Olympic berth in the 50K marathon.
As he did in the 40 K, Mannozzi strode to a decisive victory in September in the USTA 30K (18.6 miles) national championship race that was held at Rockland State Park in Congers, New York.
In that race he took the lead after about 12 miles and held the lead the rest of the way, posting a personal-best time of 2-hours, 31-minutes and 37-seconds to best his nearest competitor by more than two minutes.
At last weekend’s 40K, Mannozzi topped the second place finisher, Dave Talcott, by more than six minutes.
The National 40K was first held in 1939 and saw John Rahkonen of New York’s Finnish-American AC win it in 3:55:57.
Virtually every USA Olympic racewalker, including Larry Young (Olympic 50K bronze medalist in 1968-72) and Rudy Haluza (fourth-placer in the 1968 20K, the nation’s highest-ever placer in the shorter Olympic event) has competed in the 40K over the years.
Walkers from Canada, Mexico, England, Ireland, Israel, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and other nations have competed in the event, too.
“I tried to use good pace judgment in the 30K and 40K because I didn’t want to crash in the later stages,” said Mannozzi, who used the races as a stepping stone for the 50K national championship race to be held Nov. 24 in Coconut Creek, Fla.
With the win at last weekend’s 40K, Mannozzi is now a four-time national race-walking champion.
Mannozzi also won the 2012 2012 Millrose Games mile walk, which doubled as the U.S. championship at that distance.
As a senior in 2010 at Notre Dame College near Cleveland, Mannozzi claimed his first national race-walking title at the NAIA national championships, where he came from way behind over the final two laps of the 3K race to claim a victory.
Mannozzi’s remarkable run into an elite status among American race-walkers actually began at Youngstown State University in 2005, where as a freshman, he wanted to form a wrestling team at the school, which at the time had none. While at YSU, he tried as a ‘walk-on’ to join the Penguins cross country, track and football teams. He was spurned at every turn.
While attending a wrestling meet at Kent State University, he wore a ‘YSU wrestling sweatshirt’ that he made.
At the meet, he was approached by the father of an Austintown Fitch wrestler who was on the KSU mat team, and who asked about the YSU program.
At that point, Mannozzi had to explain there was no wrestling program at the school---and the father suggested he contact Notre Dame College, that was just starting their own wrestling team.
Mannozzi visisted the school and soon joined the ND wrestling program on a scholarship.
Mannozzi, who sometimes calls himself ‘The Italian Stallion,’ was sub-par on the mats, and decided to try out for the school’s track program.
Though he scored some points in track and field, it didn’t seem he would attain any status in the sport.
His javelin coach suggested Mannozzi try racewalking, because the school did not compete in that event.
He wasn’t very good at that either, as in his first race in Mar., 2008, even the female racewalkers beat him.
Then he came out of nowhere two years later to win the NAIA championship and since that time has been doggedly pursuing his Olympic dream.
He still needs to knock some 30 minutes off his time to post an Olympic qualifying mark.
“I don’t intend to give up on my dream,” he says, looking forward to the 50K race in November.