LONDON Manteo Mitchell felt the pop in his leg and knew it wasnt good.
It felt like somebody literally just snapped my leg in half, he said.
But Mitchell had half a lap to go in the first leg of the 4x400-meter relay preliminaries at the London Olympics on Thursday. He had a choice to make: keep running or stop and lose the race.
To him, it was never much of a choice.
Mitchell, a Western Carolina alum and native of Mooresboro, near Shelby, finished the lap and limped to the side. Then he watched his teammates 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 its what almost any person wouldve done in that situation.
Mitchell, in his first Olympics, finished his heat in a more-than-respectable 46.1 seconds, and the United States tied the Bahamas in the second heat, at 2 minutes, 58.87 seconds the fastest time ever run in the first round of the relay at the Olympics.
Mitchell, 25 and a graduate assistant track coach at Western Carolina, 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 the stakes. The Americans have won gold in the past eight long relays theyve entered at the Olympics.
Even though track is an individual sport, youve got three guys depending on you, the whole world watching you, Mitchell said. You dont want to let anyone down.
He said he slipped on the stairs a few days ago in the athletes village but didnt 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.
I was doing my job, Mitchell said. But probably at 201 meters, I heard it and I felt it.
He credited something more than simple adrenaline for pushing him the rest of the way around the track.
Faith, focus, finish. Faith, focus, finish. Thats the only thing I could say to myself, he said.
Mitchell was a promising high school football player at Crest High when another broken bone altered his career. He broke his left arm, and his coaches seeing the natural talent pushed him over to the track.
Western Carolina coach Danny Williamson saw Mitchell finish second several times to a future Olympian, Travis Padgett, and offered a scholarship.
He was a team person here, said Williamson, who received the first call from Mitchell after he got off the track Thursday. As soon as he came to Western Carolina, no matter what the situation, hed do anything we asked of him.
On the worlds biggest stage, Mitchell took the team-first thing to a whole new level.
He is the 2012 version of Kerri Strug, whose vault on a sprained ankle sealed the first-ever Olympic team gymnastics gold for U.S. women at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Id like to believe the only way he would have stopped is if the leg had fallen off, Williamson said.
Mitchell will spend the rest of the Olympics, and beyond, in a walking boot and on crutches. Hell be at the stadium to watch the final Friday. The medals ceremony is Saturday and Mitchell would get one, too, since he ran in the preliminaries.
I pretty much figured it was broken, because every step I took, it got more painful, he said. But I was out there already. I just wanted to finish and do what I was called in to do.