Air Force Training and the Olympic Trials

Michael Mannozzi (left) with the TSgt Gonzales of the Weather training complex who put on the social distancing event and personally funded and provided the prizes. Mannozzi amassed 202 Miles in 2 weeks in this competition.

by Michael Mannozzi

During the plane ride back to Keesler AFB, I was grateful for the memorable experience representing the Air Force at the USA Track and Field Olympic Trials for the 50k Race Walk. I am no stranger to change but I like most had not anticipated all of the changes just days following this race that remain vital issues more than six months later.

Covid – 19 has forced the cancellation of events worldwide and races were no exception. Mercifully the virtual events have incentivized many to have a goal to target and even maintain regimented training for many. Despite the bottled up tensions that have released during political/social unrest as well as the challenges of tech school, the training has personally allowed for me to have an outlet to process everything and reflect within myself. Especially since I am not with my family at this time and cannot simply spring clean or be with them to manage stress. Running and Race walking creates a block of time to feel liberated, give thanks, and reflect on my family without distractions as I work towards future goals. I learned it is better to have an opportunity and not get it than have one and lose it due to a lack of preparation. In this manner, I had to be put into another career field and transitioned from weather to Religious Affairs! All of my efforts in the Weather program parlayed into support from my instructors when it was fairly concluded that I was not the best fit for it and would be better suited in another Air Force specialty Code. (AFSC). Ironically Religious Affairs was the top “dream job” for me when enlisting. This was truly a prayer answered for me. I will likely elaborate more thoroughly in a future piece, after being operational but it is essentially looking out for the welfare of fellow Airmen through a variety of ways both with units and behind the scenes.

Before I even left for the Olympic Trials in late January, I knew other races especially non-Olympic Trial level would not be approved, so if there was one I HAD to be at this year, this one clearly topped the list. Ironically, I had to turn down only two other events before Covid measures were in full force, and have not missed out on any events that I would have not been able to take part in while at tech school.

I was once warned by a life coach of two hurdles I will face in my thirties. Gaining weight more easily and the need for more rest. Being over 30 the body begins to gradually slow down particularly the metabolism, paired with the need for more rest than previously required to operate well. Fitting in quality training consistently on top of a 10- 12 hour duty day is not for the faint of heart.

Michael Mannozzi (right) winning a social distancing contest while on base. The contest was put on by AFSA Chapter 652. Mannozzi amassed over 311 miles.

Then there is the weight gain due to a slower metabolism among other stress factors. The “freshman 15” Airman are said to gain at tech school is shockingly accurate. I maintain a workout routine more regularly than most of even the more disciplined Airman but still managed to accumulate five extra pounds by July vs a friend who has been here less than three months and reported a ten pound increase. This has resulted in me requesting permission from the commander to leave the dorms by 0400 as opposed to 0500 which ruled out morning runs. Not only is it dark and ten degrees or more cooler, but 0400 better suites effective training vs the routine I had for most of the past 7 months which was being released from the duty day after 1630 and training after barring any other meetings, and then eating around 7 PM. This means I either slept near 2200 ( 10pm) or went to bed with a full stomach, neither of the two helpful for the 4:45 AM wake up to hurriedly and literally run to the DFAC to get breakfast to go, shave shower and be in full military uniform and on time for accountability at 0530.

Press Release – Airman finishes 6th at 2020 Olympic Trials

Mannozzi 6th at Olympic Trials 50k Race Walk

On January 25th, Mannozzi a native of Youngstown, Ohio and formerly residing in Toronto, Canada took part in the 50k Race Walk Olympic Team Trials. He qualified meeting the 5:15 time standard as well as a top 15 time nationally.

Mannozzi began race walking twelve years ago and has competed in multiple national and international competitions, including two Olympic Trial events in 2012 and 2016. Race walking, an event within the sport of Track and Field, has been in the Olympics since 1904. The 50k (31.1 mile) event is the longest foot race in the Olympics, nearly 5 miles longer than the marathon.

For this years’ trials, he began preparing for this opportunity the very day he arrived at Keesler AFB. “I trained faithfully without knowing if I’d be given permission to race, which was eventually granted only the day before I flew to the event. This was supported by USA Track and Field, Air Force Sports, my chain of command from my Military Training Leaders, instructors all the way up to Lt. Col. Williams as our Squadron Commander to approve my travel to compete at this event.”

Competing at the 2020 Olympic Trials 50km Race Walk

“This was the least trained I had been for an Olympic Trials event, since i missed nine weeks of race walk specific training at Basic Military Training and had to adjust to the longer than usual days at tech school. I was often up before 4 am and had less than one hour to train.

I played the hand I was dealt the best I could as I was adapting to the demands of tech school while studying as a Weather Apprentice which is notably one of the longest and most difficult programs in all of the Air Force tech school. One valuable life skill I have acquired since joining the military is to go with the flow because change is inevitable.”

As for the race itself, Mannozzi raced conservatively and relied on nearly 12 years of experience. While starting out in 13th place, he managed finish in 6th place overall in 5 hours and 2 minutes.

This adds to the resume of many firsts, notably the the first male track and field athlete from the Youngstown area to compete in 3 Olympic Trials as well as finish in the top 10 each time. He is also the only Airman to compete in an Olympic Trials event for the Tokyo Games while attending tech school.

With the Olympic Trials 50km Race Walk 6th place plaque

Mannozzi graduated Air Force Basic Training on Dec 20th, 2019 with the distinguished title of “Warhawk” from earning a perfect score on the physical training (PT) test. In addition to walking, he is a descent runner as well, finishing 3rd fastest out of the weekly graduating class. This earned him a spot, along with the other top male and female runners to, lead the 530 graduates from the front with the base commander during the Airm’s Run.

Although he didn’t qualify for the Olympic team this year, Mannozzi’s 50k time is currently 36th in the world for 2020, and his sights are on representing the Air Force for many years in the future.

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