Manteo Mitchell Shows True Heart of American Olympic Spirit By Finishing Race With Broken Leg

That’s it. I’ve given up on track and field.

Yesterday in London, Manteo Mitchell of the United States broke his left fibula halfway through his leg (no pun intended) of the 4x400m relay qualifications, and still somehow managed to clock a split time of 46.1 seconds. As an average collegiate runner, I have and never will come even close to 46.1 seconds in the 400m, and this guy did it with a broken leg.

In one of the greatest days for Team USA at the 2012 London Olympics, Manteo Mitchell’s valiant performance arguably surpasses other extraordinary performances in women’s soccer, women’s water polo, the men’s decathlon, men’s taekwondo, women’s boxing, and open water swimming — and he didn’t even receive a medal.

Mitchell finished fifth in the 400m at the U.S. Olympic Trials in July, qualifying him for the relay pool of the U.S. men’s 4x400m relay team. Three days before the 4x400m qualification round yesterday, Mitchell recalled falling awkwardly on a set of stairs, but apparently received adequate treatment and thought nothing of it.

The American sprinter had half a lap to go as the first leg of the 4x400m team when he suddenly felt like, “somebody literally just snapped [his] leg in half.” But there was no quitting for Mitchell. He hadn’t made the Olympics for Team USA just to walk off the track, and with the Americans winning gold in the last eight 4x400m relays they’ve entered at the Olympics, he wasn’t going to be the one to let anyone down.

Someway, somehow, Mitchell managed to get the baton to second leg runner Josh Mance and the U.S. relay team finished the heat in 2 minutes, 58.87 seconds — the fastest time ever run in the first round of the relay at the Olympics.

The final diagnosis: a complete break of the left fibula, with a healing time of about four to six weeks. 

Broken bones aren’t anything new to Mitchell, however. As a standout high school football player at Crest High School in Shelby, NC, he broke his left arm, forcing coaches to push him towards the track — a wise decision, considering it took a unique, driven athlete to do what Mitchell did yesterday. 

How hard is it to finish a 200m with a broken fibula? Extremely, gruelingly painful, but not impossible. Luckily, Mitchell broke his fibula — a non-weight-bearing bone — not his tibia — the larger bone in the leg.

Although the U.S. 4x400m relay has to now find alternates for both Mitchell and LaShawn Merritt (who incurred an injury in the individual 400m heats), the team should still have a chance to obtain gold. If they do end up winning, they owe much gratitude to Mitchell for his gritty performance.

Mitchell is a real-life Greg Jennings of Madden. He “put the team on his back, doe,” and exemplified true Olympic spirit; an amazing instance of human fortitude and sheer guts. It’s athletes like Manteo Mitchell that make this sport one of the most underrated in the United States, and it’s a shame it’s only showcased every four years.

I take it back — I would never quit track and field — and Mitchell’s relentlessnes is the reason why.

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Logan Nee

Logan wrote for Mic from October 2011 to February 2014. He is now living in New York City. [logan.nee@gmail.com]

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