"Manteo Mitchell didn't run well, but they can replace him in the final."
When the announcer of the 4x400m said those words, he had thought that the US relay team's lead sprinter had simply had a bad day. He couldn't have known how bad.
After getting a bad jump off the blocks Mitchell started to pick up speed. As he reached 100-meters he said that his leg, which he had landed on awkwardly days earlier when he missed a stair, "felt weird." That didn't stop the runner from North Carolina. Mitchell kept his foot on the gas. But then, Mitchell says, something bad happened.
"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."
Many runners would have stopped there. I'd have to imagine that running 200 additional meters at a world class speed on a bum leg doesn't typically feel too great, but the pain didn't stop Mitchell.
“I knew if I finished strong we could still get [the baton] around,” he continued. “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."
Mitchell got Mance that baton, and he and the rest of the team (Tony McQuay and Bryshon Nellum) took it from there. Over the final three legs of the race the US was able to fight from 7th place back into 2nd and a spot in the finals. Mitchell will not be joining them.
After the race his leg was x-rayed, and he was told that he broke his left fibula. Had he not fought through the pain to finish the final 200m of his run, the US would be watching the finals tonight. Instead they'll be racing for the gold. If they pull it out, Mitchell's medal will have been well earned.