You may or may not have heard of Olympic sprinter Manteo Mitchell (depends on how much you watch the Olympics or follow Track & Field obviously), but you definitely need to know his story. He performed one of the most heroic feats in athletics in recent memory. Manteo ran the first leg of the 4x400m men’s relay for the United States in the London 2012 Olympics, but did so with a slight issue. He kinda sorta broke his leg in the first 200 meters. It was a complete crack of his left fibula and he finished the race anyway. We were thrilled to get a chance to chat with him in this OTR Exclusive:
Micah: First of all, how are you feeling?
Manteo: Feeling pretty good. Just getting adjusted to getting back to training. That in and of itself is a lot especially with what I’ve been through the past two and a half, three months. Just trying to get back to training and hopefully have another successful season on the track.
Micah: What was the exact damage to the leg?
Manteo: I completely broke my left fibula bone. Complete break all the way through. I was out the remainder of the season, had to miss five or six meets. Really big meets too after the duration of the Olympics.
Micah: But you ran on it?
Manteo: Oh yeah I ran on it. A lot of people thought it was a publicity stunt. It was kind of awkward hearing different opinions from different people, but I tried to block that all out and focus on rehab and all that good stuff. Plenty of people said “how did you break your leg? If you broke your leg you wouldn’t be able to run.” And then the media got the actual bone wrong. They said it was the tibia, but it was actually the fibula. If it was the tibia I definitely wouldn’t have been able to run.
Micah: Yeah, big difference!
Manteo: The fibula is the non-weight-bearing bone, but it does bear about 20% of your weight. And the way that I was running and all the stress I had put on it the last three days leading up to the that. I tripped going up the stairs, and I think that’s what set up a stress fracture that we didn’t notice. But I got treatment and we thought everything was fine, I got up there and I felt really good, but low and behold at 200 meters my leg just snaps. I mean, I felt it. If you go back and watch it, you can see the look on my face. It was tough, man.
Micah: So you may have cracked it to some degree falling up the stairs? And you heard a pop, are you sure that was the full break? Do you think after it broke during the race you did more damage to it?
Manteo: No, it didn’t break the day that I hit it. I know that for a fact. Because, I just remember tripping up the steps trying to hurry and get back to the shuttle to get to practice. I was skipping steps and halfway up I missed and caught myself, but my leg bared right into the sharp edge of the steps. So, I was like ‘man, that hurt so bad.’ There was some swelling and inflammation, and it was just sore and tender to touch. But it was tolerable, I practiced the next two days on it. So, I thought I’d be fine and that it was just a bone bruise. The doctors all looked at it and they thought it was fine. So we thought I was okay to run the first leg.
Manteo: It’s just crazy. A freak accident. Everyone keeps asking if I broke it before the race. No, it broke during the race. I felt it break. I felt it give way.
Micah: Yeah, you wouldn’t start a race with a broken fibula.
Manteo: Oh, no. Because, for me, Team USA is exactly that. It’s about the team; it’s about the USA. Individual efforts go out of the picture when it comes to being on a team. That’s just the way I was brought up. I’m a team guy. That’s just the way I was raised in athletics. If my leg was broken, I’d have told someone prior. That way, my position would be filled and we’d still have the opportunity to get a medal. I’d wouldn’t have run if I knew before.
Micah: How close were you to quitting in that race? Had to cross your mind.
Manteo: That’s what I was going to say, yeah, it crossed my mind a few times. You wouldn’t think that you’d have a lot of time to think in a race that takes about 44 seconds. But, I’m a mental athlete and I think about a lot of things. And some things are weird that I think about. But, in that race I remember getting out and thinking ‘man, I don’t feel right.’ Right off the bat. I didn’t get off as fast as I usually do. But then I came up to the 150 mark, and I’m like ‘okay, something is wrong with my leg.’
And then as I crossed the 200m mark in my lane that’s when it gave way and I actually felt it and heard it break. And I’m thinking, ‘okay, what am I going to do? Am I going to lay down right here and just quit and let four years of training for 45 seconds or less go unnoticed and let my country down and let my teammates down? I didn’t want to be that guy so I just kept running.
Micah: That’s amazing.
Manteo: Yeah, it was very uncomfortable. When I was running I could feel it kind of shifting with every step. And I’m pretty sure the farther I went, the more it broke. When I saw the x-ray, I couldn’t believe it. It was all the adrenaline, just my drive and energy and my passion for the sport and my drive, that’s what got me through. Definitely God of course. I don’t think that many people would be able to do that, and I’m not boasting and bragging, that’s not me. I just work hard and have a lot of support and I don’t want to let myself down or them. So I sucked it up one time for my team.
Micah: Who was your track idol growing up?
Manteo: Oh I’ve had so many track idols, both male and female. You have Flo Jo, Marion Jones. The idols I actually have are the people I run against now or people that I see on a monthly basis from making teams and competing across the world. People that are a little bit older than me, or even younger than me that I’ve followed throughout my seven-year career. Those are my idols. Half of the team in London were my idols. Justin Gatlin is one of my main idols and he’s my roommate every where we go. We’ve become really good friends. He’s like a big brother to me, but he’s my idol.
It’s kind of weird. On the outside, people say, “oh it’s so cool you get to meet all these people,” and I’m like, “I’m just as star struck as you are!”
Manteo Mithell is part of the St.Vincent Sports Performance Elite Athlete Network.