Runner Manteo Mitchell said he "felt" and "heard" his fibula breaking midway through his lead-off leg of the 4x400-meter relay Thursday morning in qualifying heats. He kept running, going another 200 meters and handing off the baton to Joshua Mance. The U.S. went on to finish second in the heat, advancing to the final Friday night.
America would not have kept its medal hopes alive in the event without the effort of Mitchell. His injury was diagnosed after the race by team doctor Bob Adams: broken left fibula.
"I knew if I finished strong we could still get it [the baton] around," Mitchell said. "I saw Josh Mance motioning me in for me to hand it off to him, which lifted me. I didn't want to let those three guys down, or the team down, so I just ran on it. It hurt so bad. I'm pretty amazed that I still split 45 seconds on a broken leg."
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Mitchell believes he initially injured the leg a few days ago in the Olympic Village when he slipped on a stairway.
"Three days ago I was going up the stairs and I kind of missed one and landed awkwardly," said the 25-year-old from Cullowhee, N.C. "I got treatment and I was fine. I did workouts, and when I warmed up today I felt really well. I felt I could go 44 [seconds]-low."
But once the race started, Mitchell knew something was wrong.
"I got out pretty slow, but I picked it up, and when I got to the 100-meter mark it felt weird," he said. "I was thinking I just didn't feel right. As soon as I took the first step past the 200-meter mark, I felt it break. I heard it. I even put out a little war cry, but the crowd was so loud you couldn't hear it. I wanted to just lie down. It felt like somebody literally just snapped my leg in half."
Somehow, he finished the race. Now the U.S. must put together a relay without Mitchell or its best 400-meter runner, LaShawn Merritt, who pulled up injured in the heats of the individual 400. Using members of the 400 hurdle contingent is a strong possibility.
If the U.S. makes the medal stand, Mitchell will have earned a special place in American track lore with his effort to make it possible.
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