Leonel Manzano may be all of 5-foot-5 and 125 pounds, but when he is in his element, his shadow engulfs the entire track.
The Texas junior fashioned the best kick on the anchor leg to outlast three rivals, including gritty Villanova junior Robert Curtis, and lead the Longhorns to their second consecutive victory in the distance medley relay yesterday at the Penn Relays on a gray, gloomy day at Franklin Field.
Manzano, who also performed the anchor honors last season when he boosted Texas to its first-ever victory in the event at the carnival, was clocked in 3 minutes, 57.9 seconds for his 1,600-meter anchor leg and broke the tape first for the Longhorns in 9:29.60.
For the second straight day, a Villanova team made a valiant effort to pull out a victory in the distance medley relay - the women came close on Thursday - but fell short and settled for second in 9:32.00. Curtis established a personal best for 1,600 with a 3:58.0.
The second day of the carnival, which drew a crowd of 39,166, was marred by a pair of delays totaling more than two hours because of lightning. It marked only the second time in anyone's memory that the competition was suspended because of weather, the first time being in 1999.
Curtis, who had taken the baton in fourth place, 15 meters off the front, followed Manzano, and the pair were 1-2 entering the final lap. But as Curtis tried to make his move on the backstretch, Manzano held him off and gradually extended his lead to a 10-meter margin at the line.
"He's an NCAA champion and has a 3:37 [personal best] in the 1,500, so I knew I had one shot at him, and I decided to take it with 300 to go," said Curtis, a senior from Louisville. "When he put up a fight, I wasn't surprised at all because he's just that kind of athlete. I just tried to hang on the best I could."
Manzano, a junior from Marble Falls, Texas, won the NCAA indoor mile championship last month and has looked unbeatable for two straight years at Penn, but he stays humble.
"I try to be confident, but at the same time, I don't want to be too confident," he said. "I believe that being overconfident can sometimes lead to . . . it's kind of like a weakness. You always have to look at your competitor and really respect him. You have to make sure you don't overlook him."
Villanova appeared to be in good shape when Elvis Lewis blistered a 45.8-second 400 meters to turn a five-meter deficit into a five-meter lead. But Drew Eckman ran an 800-meter leg that was about four seconds slower than those of his three chief rivals, leaving Curtis with work to do.
Curtis did well. He caught up to the pack after the first lap and tried to hang on.
"Luckily for me, they went out kind of slow," Curtis said. "It was good for me that the pace continued to be a little sluggish, so I was able to rest up after catching them and try to kick after that."
Manzano, however, didn't make that possible, and the Longhorns successfully defended their title over Villanova, third-place Tennessee, and fourth-place Michigan.
"I can say it's always a really big honor just to come back and compete here," Manzano said. "The Penn Relays is always big. If I could, I'd want to come back every single year and compete."
The men's distance medley relay was one of seven Championship of America events decided yesterday. Michigan established the day's only record, setting a collegiate mark of 17:15.62 in the women's 4x1,500-meter relay.
Louisiana State captured its 11th championship in the women's 4x100 in 43.66 seconds, but the Tigers were nipped at the wire by South Carolina in the shuttle hurdle relay in 53.54. Abilene Christian took the men's shuttle hurdles in 58.40.
The sprint medley relays, the final events last night, were won by the Florida State men in 3:14.68 and the LSU women in 3:47.09. The Seminoles, the 2006 NCAA outdoor champions, won a men's event at the carnival for the first time. The Tigers were anchored by freshman LaTavia Thomas, a graduate of West Catholic, who clocked 2:07.1 for 800 meters.
Florida's Michael T. Morrison, a graduate of Willingboro High, won his second men's long jump in three years with a leap of 25 feet, 11/4 inches.
In other events, Jussi Heikkila of South Carolina won the college men's 400-meter hurdles in 51.06, Mitchell Pope of North Carolina State took the men's shot put with a toss of 64-111/2, Adam Kuehl of Arizona captured the men's discus at 195-8, and North Carolina's Jocelyn White took the women's discus at 171-6.