World-class athletes are a rare breed.
Like the most celebrated of movie stars and politicians, they have the indefinable, innate "It" factor that people often talk about but do not recognize until they see it.
Besides having "It," though, to succeed a world-class athlete must have much more.
Only 17, long-track speedskater Mia Manganello already has the "It" factor in spades. More importantly, however, Manganello also has pure physical talent, which was on display when she won the Junior National Championships in Roseville, Minn., late last month, and a work ethic that is to be envied.
"Mia is the kind of athlete that a coach dreams of — she's talented and hard-working, which, believe it or not, is hard to come by," said Manganello's coach, Mike Kooreman. "Usually you will have an athlete full of talent but with a poor work ethic, or an athlete with no talent who has a great work ethic. Rarely do you come across an athlete with Mia's talent, dedication, and work ethic."
Manganello has always known her own mind. She plans her goals step by step and pursues them relentlessly. At 8 years old, while she was living with her parents in north Florida, she decided she wanted to be a champion inline skater.
They moved to South Florida so she could train, and while there she set inline records (for the freshman ladies 500m and 2000m — banked course and 2000m — road course) that are still standing. At age 12, she came to Utah for a speedskating camp, fell in love with the sport and her family made another move (giving up a burgeoning Italian restaurant) so she could train here.
"We were in it a hundred percent. No question that we definitely decided that that's what we needed to do. We have no regrets," said Manganello's mom, Karen Manganello.
There were other sacrifices made along the way, as well. Manganello has been home-schooled since making the move to Utah, and since she only trains with college-age men and women, it has been difficult for her to make friends her own age.
"She's doing it for herself. It's hard for her to make friends, so she's lonely. She'll try to make the friends, but there's always the competitive edge that makes it hard for them to get close to each other. Some skaters are only friends off the ice, and even that's very rare," her father, Dom Manganello, said.
"She has given up so much because she really wants it," Karen Manganello added. "It's why she is so successful. She doesn't have to be coerced. She gets herself up every morning to train, and back every evening — all on her own."
Having won the Junior National Championships outright, putting up the best overall times in 1000m, 1500m and the 3000m, Manganello next competes in Junior Country Match as a lead-up to the Junior World Championships Feb. 23-25 in Innsbruck, Austria.
"She has the potential to be the best," coach Kooreman said. "Not just at Junior Worlds this year, but in Vancouver (the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics) in three years as well. She has a very bright future ahead of her, and because of her age, she'll be topping podiums for many years to come."
Manganello is excited about her prospects at Worlds but also just excited about getting the opportunity to travel outside the country with her team. Manganello enjoys the group she practices with — particularly the fact that it is made up of mostly guys.
"I'd rather chase the boys than lead the girls," Manganello said. "If you start to catch the boys, you can beat some girls."
She typically sets short-term, yearly goals for herself, but she does have one definite long-term goal she wants to achieve.
"Of course, I want to make the Olympics in 2010 and win some medals," Manganello said. "But, it's been awhile since an American woman has won a world-all around medal, so my main long-term goal is to win that."
Regardless of whether she ever medals, though, her parents are satisfied. Despite the sacrifices they made for her, Manganello maintains that she has never felt unduly pressured. She is incredibly self-possessed for a teenager and has always been self-motivated.
"When we made the move to Utah, my parents told me, 'Just make sure you're happy and when you're not, we'll move back home,"' Manganello said. "I've always been happy on the ice, though. Winning never gets boring."