LONDON — Manteo Mitchell felt the pop in his leg and knew it wasn't good. "It felt like somebody literally just snapped my leg in half," he said.
The American sprinter had half a lap to go in the first leg of the 4x400-meter relay preliminaries Thursday and a choice to make: keep running or stop and lose the race. To him, it was never much of a choice.
He finished the lap and limped to the side to watch the Americans finish the race and qualify easily for the final. A few hours later, doctors confirmed what he suspected: He had run the last 200 meters with a broken left fibula.
"I heard it and I felt it," Mitchell told The Associated Press. "But I figured it's what almost any person would've done in that situation."
Mitchell finished his heat in a more-than-respectable 46.1 seconds, and the United States tied the Bahamas in the second heat in 2 minutes, 58.87 seconds — the fastest time ever run in the first round of the relay at the Olympics.
The 25-year-old sprinter from Cullowhee, N.C., said he was diagnosed with a complete break of the left fibula — but it was not a compound fracture and the bone is expected to heal on its own in four to six weeks.
He knew what the stakes were when he lined up to run the first leg of his first Olympics. The Americans have won gold in the last eight long relays they've entered at the Olympics.
"Even though track is an individual sport, you've got three guys depending on you, the whole world watching you," Mitchell said. "You don't want to let anyone down."
He said he slipped on the stairs a few days ago in the athletes village but didn't think much of it. Training went well and he felt good when he lined up to kick things off for the Americans. He said he was feeling great, as well, when he looked at the clock while approaching the 200-meter mark, somewhere in the high-20 or low-21-second range.