Faith, Focus, and Finish guiding WCU standout
Former Western Carolina University Track & Field standout Manteo Mitchell sprinted to the front of the pack during the 2012 United States Olympic Trials as he competed in the finals of the 400-meter dash Sunday, June 24, at Historic Heyward Field in Eugene, Oregon. Mitchell finished fifth overall in the event and shattered his previous time to run an all-time personal best time of 44.96.
The Mooresboro, N.C., native, who received an undergraduate degree in Sport Management with a concentration in Athletic Administration and a Master's degree in Physical Education, both from WCU, was in the top of his heat for the first 300 meters of the race before the competition closed in over the last 100 meters. The reigning 400-meter Olympic gold medalist, LaShawn Merrit, won the race with a time of 44.12 Tony Mc- Quay from the University of Florida placed second with a time of 44.49. Bryshon Nellum (44.80) and Josh Mance (44.88) placed third and fourth ahead of Mitchell, making the last three spots being separated by only .16 of a second.
Still fresh off of a trip to Turkey for the Indoor World Championship where he helped the U.S.A. team bring home a gold medal in the 4x400 relay, Mitchell said he was stunned to learn he had qualified for the 2012 Olympics. “I was in disbelief. I had just returned from Istanbul, Turkey for the Indoor World Championships. My body was still a little tired from all the travel and still getting adjusted to the time difference,” said Mitchell. “I expected to run fast, but not that fast so early and in my opener. It was a testament that hard work and dedication to something truly pays off. I am blessed. I have faith, I maintain focus both on and off the track, and I finish. That’s really all you need.”
With Mitchell’s finish at 5th place in the top eight slots, he will go to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, which start on Friday, Aug. 3, as one of eight runners who qualified to run the 4x400-meter relay team. The relay team will be assembled out of those top eight. The first round of the 4x400- meter relay takes place on Day 7 of the Olympics on Aug. 9, at 11:35 a.m. The finals will be on the second to last day of the Olympics, Aug. 10, on Friday evening at 9:20 p.m.
A life-long athlete, Mitchell began aiming for the Olympics as a member of the Catamount Track and Field team. “While at WCU, I competed both indoors and outdoors,” said Mitchell. “My coach saw that I could perform well over a variety of events. I ran the 60m, 200m, 400m, 4x400m relay indoors, while I was running the 100m, 200m, 400m, 4x100, relay and the 4x400 relay outdoors. It was a lot, but I was willing to do anything to help my team score more points and beat Appalachian State for the team title.”
According to Mitchell, the idea of going to the Olympics has been a dream of his as far back as he could remember. “I have always dreamed of making it to this stage,” said Mitchell. “Making it to the Olympic Games is like the final pay-off for all the sweat, blood, and tears from intense training, strict dieting, and hours and hours of hard work and dedication. Most people would think that an athlete of my caliber would not make it due to never being an NCAA Champion or All-American. My coach and I have worked very hard to get to where we are now, and I would not change that for the world. God has blessed me with a tremendous opportunity and I will make the most of it while I still can.”
Still adjusting to the news of being one of eight men in the world to represent the United States in the 4x400 later this year at the Olympic Games in London, Mitchell said that he did not really anticipate having a shot at the Olympics until he ran his personal best in the 200m race earlier this year.
“I realized I had a ‘shot’ after my first race of the season. I had just returned from the Indoor World Championships four days prior and I ran a personal best with no training in the 200m race,” said Mitchell. “Ironically, I got the automatic qualifying time for the Olympic Trials. That really boosted my confidence. Then, a week and a half later I ran the fastest time in the world in the 400m and automatically qualified for the Olympic Trials. I think it really goes back to goal setting. You have to set attainable goals and achieve those ‘small-step’ goals before you can just outright say, ‘I want to be an Olympian.’ Dr. Justin Menickelli taught me that as an undergraduate student at WCU and it has stuck with me during my career in this sport.”
Mitchell, who still trains in Cullowhee and uses the same workout methods he did as a collegiate athlete, attributes his success and determination to the coaching he received as a Catamount. “My training is almost exactly what it was when I was an athlete at WCU,” explained Mitchell. “My coach (Danny Williamson) is the head track and field coach at the University. He has coached me for almost seven years now. If anyone knows my body… it's him. He does a great job training me and keeping me in shape. I owe that man the world. We do a mixture of endurance, speed, and resistance training. More importantly he prepares me mentally. I define myself as a mental athlete. You can be the most fit guy on the track, but if you are not mentally prepared and focused, that can hurt your race or race pattern. The relationship my coach and I have reminds me of a father-son combination. He is like a father to me. I call him Dad - well ‘Pops’ actually.”
According to Williamson, he could not be more proud of Mitchell's accomplishments on the national level or his continued dedication to his Alma Mater as a volunteer coach for WCU's track team. “Manteo has always been an extremely hard worker,” said Williamson. “He is an exceptional athlete, a firstclass citizen, he was a team leader and a team player the entire time he ran for WCU. He always did whatever the coaches would ask of him, and as a coach, Manteo is the type of athlete you want to have in your program.”
Williamson noted that although WCU is receiving national attention after having an athlete selected to go to the Olympics, he is most proud of how proud Manteo is to be a graduate of the institution. “He always represents WCU extremely well,” said Williamson. “Today, he is competing in the trials for the 200 meter run for the Olympics and he wanted to be sure he had a new WCU Catamount hat to wear there so he had someone send him a new hat. He is as proud to be from WCU as WCU is proud to call him a Catamount alumni.”
After coaching Manteo for seven years, Williamson said the he was not surprised when his former athlete made the Olympic team. “I was not surprised at all because I knew he had it in him,” recalled Williamson. “We knew the competition would be tough, but I have always felt that the opportunity would open up for Manteo to earn one of those spots.”
Williamson, who was with Manteo during his trip to qualify for the Olympics in Oregon, said that he hopes to have the opportunity to be beside Manteo during the Olympics, but if he can't, he plans to stay in constant contact with him to help in guiding his workouts.
Mitchell noted that the overall experience of being at the Olympics and to be among the best athletes in the nation is what he is most looking forward to. “This is my first Olympics so I am excited to just be among the world's greatest athletes across the board,” said Mitchell. “Not just in my sport but amongst the likes of Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Michael Phelps, Nastia Liukin, etc. The list could go on for days. Some of them I am already friends with, but I will take pics with all of them just to have it on record for my fans and my family/friends. Honestly, I just want to go there and represent my hometown, my schools that I have attended, my family, my friends, and my state. However, most I cannot wait to represent the U.S.A.. That is the main reason we are there, right? Through God I can do all things so I know He has a plan in mind for me.”