Manteo Mitchell poses for a photo at the 2022 USA Bobsled & Skeleton Performance Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Manteo Mitchell, The Broken Leg Runner.
Mitchell doesn’t try to fight it. No matter what he does or where he goes, people want to ask him about what happened at the Olympic Games London 2012.
“It always surfaces,” he says, “and it always will.”
The moment came 11 years ago, during a track and field race at the 2012 Olympics. Mitchell was the lead runner on the U.S. men’s 4x400-meter team, charging down the backstretch, when his fibula snapped. By any reasonable standard, the broken leg bone should have ended his race right then, halfway through the first leg of the preliminary round.
Instead, he kept running through excruciating pain and got the baton off to a teammate. The U.S. went on to tie for first place in the heat, and the next day, Mitchell watched as his teammates ran to a second-place finish in the final, making him an Olympic silver medalist.
It was a moment that was barely discernible as it happened, but one that, as news spread, quickly turned a little-known sprinter from North Carolina into one of those Olympic legends who rise up every four years to defy the limits and inspire the world.
Being known for a single moment during your 20s can be a blessing and a curse. For Mitchell, it’s become the former. During Team USA’s celebration at the White House, President Barack Obama singled Mitchell out. Mitchell has shared the story countless times as a motivational speaker. People still come up to him almost daily and ask about it.
“There’s so many outlets to that story that it just is a healing point for a lot of people,” he said. “And they can pull from that the inspiration that they need to never give up or to keep fighting or to keep running.”
Still, Mitchell wants to be more than that inspiring Olympian from 2012.
Now 35 years old, he looks back at his life and his career with perspective. When somebody says a name, he points out, it’s usually followed by a comma and some description.
Take his own, for example.
Manteo Mitchell, North Carolina native.
Manteo Mitchell, Western Carolina University grad.
Manteo Mitchell, Olympian.
Manteo Mitchell, Broken Leg Runner.
“I’m all about building those combos,” he said.
He’s hard at work adding some new ones.
During the pandemic, with the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 postponed a year, Mitchell took up a longstanding offer to try bobsledding. His first run down the icy track came that December in Park City, Utah.
His ultimate mission culminates three years from now.
Should he make the U.S. team for the Olympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026 and earn a medal there, Mitchell would become just the seventh person — and third American — to win a Summer and Winter Olympic medal. Notably, he’d also become the first Black man to do so.