The buildup to every liftoff was practically heart-stopping.
Thousands of miles away from the Rio 2016 Olympics, a large group of Brittney Reese’s friends and family gathered at Mount Bethel Baptist Church in Gulfport and cheered as if they were in Brazil.
The pride of South Mississippi faulted on three of her six jumps Wednesday night in the women’s long jump finals, but made her final two leaps count. Reese jumped back into medal contention with a distance of 7.09 meters on her fifth jump and then earned the silver medal with a distance of 7.15 meters on her final attempt. She was only bested by her American teammate, Tianna Bartoletta, who jumped 7.17 meters.
“I think it was real good,” said Kimyata Young, Reese’s sister. “She always does something at the end and this time it didn’t work. The other girl got it before her, but I’m proud of both of them because they did USA 1-2, silver and gold. Even though Brittney got the silver, to me, it’s just as good as gold because a lot of people want to be where she is right now. To me, she’s still on top of the world.”
As Reese walked to the track each time, the sanctuary, where several projection screens streamed the competition, filled with cheers. Then, as Reese leaned back to begin her dash toward the sand pit, the room went silent, only the hum of the air conditioner quietly buzzed. Each family member and friend clung to every moment, every leap.
Once the sand kicked up and the white flag flashed on the sanctuary’s screens to signify a good jump, the room again filled with cheers and fist pumps.
“(My) heart was racing, pounding,” Young said. “You don’t want to watch but you can’t turn your eyes because if you turn your face you’re going to miss it.”
All the cheering must have paid off as Reese saved her best jump for last to secure silver.
“I think she knows we’re behind her,” Young said. “She knows Gulfport is right there in Rio. We had our own little section right here. I think she feels us being there with her, not just in mind, but in her heart.
“She knows we’re there with her.”
Putting Gulfport on the map
The Gulfport High graduate was a basketball player at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before transferring to Ole Miss. There she became the NCAA long jump champion and eventually moved on to become a six-time world champion and defending Olympic gold medalist.
Even with all of her achievements, Young said Reese hasn’t forgotten where she’s from.
“It shows you can come from anywhere and accomplish anything as long as you put your mind and your heart to it,” she said. “You can’t just say, ‘I’m from a small city so no.’ Look at some of the great football players. Brett Favre for one. Itty bitty small town.
“He put his city on the map and she put her city on the map.”
Any plans for a hero’s celebration once Reese returns stateside will have to wait. Young said Reese will head home to California after the Olympics but will be back on the Coast in September.