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A Legacy Intact as Manteo Mitchell Aims For Second Act As A Bobsledder

By Chrös McDougall | Feb. 03, 2023, 3:28 p.m. (ET)

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.

(L-R) Manteo Mitchell, Ricky Berens and coach David Marsh being honored prior to the Carolina Panthers-New York Giants game on Sept. 20, 2012 in Charlotte, N.C.


Manteo Mitchell, Two-sport Olympian.

Manteo Mitchell, Winter Olympic medalist.

Manteo Mitchell, Trailblazing Black Olympian.

The prospect of adding one — maybe all — of those descriptions drives him forward.

“That’s always been something that I’ve wanted to do, even from the early ages of like maybe middle school, high school, was just to be an inspiration to somebody,” Mitchell said.

“So if I can do that within another sport, and it’d be a historical standpoint, and it encourages not just a certain type of athlete, but a certain body, that is beyond words. I want to be that spectacle. I want to be that light for people. It’s crazy how it’s playing out,” he said.

He’s already made significant progress.

Mitchell has three words tattooed to his arm: Faith. Focus. Finish.

That’s the mantra that drove him to finish that race in London.

The three words remain his foundation now as he works toward becoming an Olympic athlete in a new sport.

After his Olympic debut in London, Mitchell eventually recovered from the broken fibula physically, but the mental effects lingered. He missed out on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, then the prospect of 2020 was pulled out from beneath him.

In the two years since taking up bobsled, Mitchell has risen through the second-level North American and Europe Cup circuits to make his world cup debut this past November in Whistler, British Columbia. Over four world cup races to date, his results have improved each time, culminating with a sixth-place finish in Del Duca’s four-man sled in December in Lake Placid, New York. Mitchell also earned a push world title with pilot Kris Horn’s four-man team in December.

It’s not unusual for push athletes to come to bobsled from other sports. Lauryn Williams, one of the six to win medals in both the Summer and Winter Games, was a teammate of Mitchell’s on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track Team. Two years after winning her second Olympic medal, a gold, in London, she won a bobsled silver medal at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.

At the same time, not every fast and powerful athlete becomes an elite-level bobsledder. Mitchell credits his success so far to two factors: his willingness to become a student of the sport, and his determination to achieve what he sets his mind to.

“That mentality, running on a broken leg, you’ve got to be built different to keep doing something like that,” he said.

The opportunity to chase history certainly helps. So does his desire for his son Khi, who was born just after the London Games, to see dad compete in the Olympics.

With three years to go before the 2026 Winter Games, much of Mitchell’s story is still to be written. If he needs motivation, he can look at the three words inked to his arm.

Faith. Focus. Finish.

“I took my own advice,” he said.

Now he’s doing it again.

Chrös McDougall

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic Movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

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Manteo Mitchell