LONDON -- Manteo Mitchell heard the POP! and knew it wasn't good. "It felt like somebody literally just snapped my leg in half," he said.

The American sprinter had 200 meters to go in the first leg of the 4x400-meter relay preliminaries Thursday and a decision 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 half-lap 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.

"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. That's the only thing I could say to myself," he said.

Mitchell was a promising high school football player at Crest High School in Shelby, N.C., 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, he'd do anything we asked of him."

On the world's biggest stage, Mitchell took the team-first thing to a whole new level.

He is the 2012 version of Jack Youngblood, the Rams linebacker who played the Super Bowl on a broken leg. Or Tiger Woods, who won the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg. Or, maybe most appropriately, 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.

"I don't know how you write this, but I'd 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. He'll be at the stadium to watch Friday's final.

The United States is no shoo-in to win a medal this time, because LaShawn Merritt and Jeremy Wariner – Olympic gold medalists in 2004 and 2008 – are also both out with injuries. But the medals ceremony is Saturday, and if the U.S. finishes in the top three, Mitchell would get one, too, since he ran in the preliminaries.

Forgive him if he doesn't leap onto the podium, though.

"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."

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Day 13

    Martins Plavins of Latvia goes for a ball during a win over the Netherlands in the men's bronze medal beach volleyball match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

  • Day 13

    Japan's Yuki Ogimi is tackled by United States' Shannon Boxx in front of United States' Carli Lloyd (10) during the women's soccer gold medal match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • Day 13

    Maider Unda of Spain celebrates after she beat Vasilisa Marzalyuk of Belarus to win a bronze medal during their 72-kg women's freestyle wrestling competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Day 13

    United States' Ashton Eaton takes a throw in the decathlon javelin throw during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Day 13

    Kenya's David Lekuta Rudisha crosses the finish line to win the men's 800-meter final during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. Rudisha set a new world record with a time of 1:40.91.(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • Day 13

    Maider Unda of Spain celebrates with her coach after she beat Vasilisa Marzalyuk of Belarus to win a bronze medal during their 72-kg women's freestyle wrestling competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Day 13

    Britain's Ashley Jackson, right, and the Netherlands' Robert van der Horst vie for the ball during a men's hockey semifinal match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

  • Day 13

    Norway's Marit Malm Frafjord, holding ball, celebrates along with team mates defeating South Korea in their women's handball semifinal match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

  • Day 13

    United States' Amy Le Peilbet (6) watches teammate Carli Lloyd (10) score against Japan during the women's soccer gold medal match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

  • Day 13

    Kenya's David Lekuta Rudisha, right, and Kenya's Timothy Kitum pose next to a next to a timing board displaying Rudisha's new world record in the men's 800-meter final of 1:40.91 during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. Rudisha won gold, Kitum bronze. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Day 13

    Brazil's Fabiana Claudino, right, spikes the ball past Japan's Yuko Sano during a women's semifinal volleyball match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Day 13

    Natalia Vorobieva of Russia celebrates after beating Stanka Zlateva Hristova of Bulgaria for the gold medal during their 72-kg women's freestyle wrestling competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Day 13

    Italy's Fabrizio Donato competes in the men's triple jump final during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

  • Day 13

    Brazil's Fabiana Oliveira, top, dives but cannot reach a ball as it hits the court while Japan's Yuko Sano watches during a women's semifinal volleyball match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Day 13

    Members of the Australian women's water polo team celebrate after defeating Hungary to win their women's water polo bronze medal match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

  • Day 13

    Kenya's David Lekuta Rudisha leads in the men's 800-meter final during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa De Olza)

  • Day 13

    United States' Carli Lloyd, center bottom, celebrates with teammates after scoring against Japan during the women's soccer gold medal match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

  • Day 13

    United States' Angel McCoughtry, left, sails to the basket past Australia's Belinda Snell (12) during a women's basketball semifinal game at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

  • Day 13

    United States' Christian Taylor takes a jump during the men's triple jump final in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Day 13

    Members of the World Taekwondo Federation demonstration team perform before taekwondo competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Day 13

    United States' Christian Taylor takes a jump during the men's triple jump final in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Day 13

    Jamaica's Kerron Stewart gets the baton from her teammate Schillonie Calvert, left, in a women's 4x100-meter relay heat at the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Day 13

    Bronze medalist Pandelela Rinong Pamg from Malaysia competes during the women's 10-meter platform diving final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

  • Day 13

    United States' Christian Taylor competes in the men's triple jump final during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

  • Day 13

    Australia's center Elizabeth Cambage, left, challenges United States' guard Diana Taurasi during their women's basketball semifinal game at the 2012 Summer Olympics on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Mark Ralston, Pool)

  • Day 13

    The United States' Claressa Shields, in red, fights Russia's Nadezda Torlopova, in blue, in a women's middleweight 75-kg boxing gold medal match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

  • Day 13

    From left, silver medalist Ren Cancan of China, gold medalist Nicola Adams of Great Britain, bronze medalist, India's Chungneijang Mery Kom Hmangte, and bronze medalist Marlen Esparza of the United States, participate in the medals ceremony for women's final flyweight 51-kg gold medal boxing match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

  • Day 13

    Reinder Nummerdor of the Netherlands digs out a ball during the men's bronze medal beach volleyball match against Latvia at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

  • Day 13

    Saori Yoshida of Japan celebrates by doing a backflip after she beat Tonya Lynn Verbeek of Canada for the gold medal during their 55-kg women's freestyle wrestling competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Day 13

    Australia's Kristi Harrower (10) as her teammate Belinda Snell and USA's Tamika Catchings (10) crash during a semifinal women's basketball game at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  • Day 13

    Russia's Natalya Antyukh, middle, holds the gold medal, United States' Lashinda Demus, left, the silver medal and Czech Republic's Zuzana Hejnova, the bronze medal during a ceremony for the women's 400-meter hurdles in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Day 13

    Saori Yoshida of Japan celebrates after she beat Tonya Lynn Verbeek of Canada for the gold medal during their 55-kg women's freestyle wrestling competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Day 13

    New Zealand's Brent Newdick takes a throw in the decathlon javelin throw during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

  • Day 13

    United States' forward Tamika Catchings, left, challenges Australia's center Suzy Batkovic during their women's basketball semifinal game at the 2012 Summer Olympics on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Mark Ralston, Pool)

  • Day 13

    Australia's team captain Jamie Dwyer, center, argues during the men's hockey semifinals match between Australia and Germany at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. Germany won 4-2 to advance to the finals. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Day 13

    Latvia's Janis Smedins leaps for a spike during the men's bronze medal beach volleyball match against Netherlands at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

  • Day 13

    Australia's Matthew Swann hits the ball closer to the goal during the men's hockey semifinals match between Australia and Germany at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. Germany won 4-2 to advance to the finals. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Day 13

    Jackeline Renteria Castillo of Colombia reacts after beating Tetyana Lazareva of the Ukraine to win the bronze medal during their 55-kg women's freestyle wrestling match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Day 13

    Australia's Kieran Govers lies on the pitch after his team lost to Germany in the men's field hockey semifinal match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

  • Day 13

    The United States' Claressa Shields, in red, celebrates after winning her fight against Russia's Nadezda Torlopova, in blue, during the women's middleweight 75-kg boxing gold medal match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

  • Day 13

    The United States' Claressa Shields, in red, celebrates after winning her fight against Russia's Nadezda Torlopova, in blue, during the women's middleweight 75-kg boxing gold medal match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

  • Day 13

    Yuliya Ratkevich of Azerbaijan reacts after beating Valeriia Zholobova of Russia for the bronze during their 55-kg women's freestyle wrestling competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Day 13

    Chile's Gonzalo Barroilhet competes in the pole vault decathlon during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • Day 13

    Germany's Matthias Witthaus, third from left, celebrates his goal during a men's hockey semifinal match between Australia and Germany at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. Germany won 4-2 to advance to the final. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Day 13

    Spectators watch Steffen Peters of United States as he competes with his horse Ravel in the equestrian dressage individual competition, at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)