American Sprinter Manteo Mitchell Broke His Leg and Kept on Running. How Is That Possible?

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A Blog About the Olympic Games
Aug. 9 2012 7:45 PM

American Sprinter Manteo Mitchell Broke His Leg and Kept on Running. How Is That Possible?

Manteo Mitchell
Manteo Mitchell of the United States runs his leg of the 4-by-400-meter relay.

Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images.

"I heard it and I felt it," American sprinter Manteo Mitchell told the Associated Press after breaking his leg on Thursday. Mitchell, who was halfway through his segment of the men’s 4-by-400 relay when he felt something snap, did what he said “almost any person would've done in that situation”—he finished the remaining 200 meters. His endurance wasn’t for naught: After Mitchell limped off, his three teammates completed the relay and qualified for the 4-by-400 final. After the race, doctors diagnosed Mitchell with a complete break of the left fibula and said the bone would heal in four to six weeks. How difficult is it to run 200 meters on a broken fibula?

Very difficult, but not impossible. The fibula is the smaller of the two bones that make up the lower leg, the other being the tibia. Unlike the tibia, the fibula is non-weight-bearing. As such, it is possible to run on a broken fibula. The pain, though, would be intense and would likely debilitate many athletes. The fact that Mitchell made it around the track in just more than 46 seconds—a time that placed him in a tie for fifth out of eight runners—is extremely impressive.

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Yet Mitchell isn’t the first runner to finish a race with a broken fibula. In 2009, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that high schooler Matt Schwingshakl completed the final 80 meters of a 400-meter race on a broken fibula. "I tried to maintain form, that's what I concentrated on," Schwingshakl said. "I ignored the pain." And a 1998 Daily Telegraph story noted that an English amateur runner named Joanna McAdam completed a 10K on two broken fibulas. “I don't think I'll be doing that distance again,” McAdam said.

Krystal Bonner is a Slate intern.

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