Fourteen athletes with Mississippi ties are competing in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and a couple of them have garnered headlines for very different reasons. Rick and Tyler share their thoughts, favorite memories from past Olympics and discuss the role Mississippians have played in the games over the years.

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Tyler: Hello and welcome to the curricular letter sports podcast. I’m one half of your host, Tyler Cleveland here with my cohost, Ricky, uh, dad. How was your weekend or weekend was fine. Tyler. How was your? It was good. Got to get down to new Orleans, eat some seafood. Of course watch some of the Olympics, which is our topic for the day.

You’ve been watching a lot. Yeah. 

Rick: I always watched the Olympics. Um, you know, it’s, once every four years we see a bunch of sports, you know, we don’t normally watch, like I was watching badminton yesterday. I can’t believe how good those people are. 

Tyler: Badminton. Oh, it’s so intense. Yeah. I mean, those people treat badminton.

Like it is an sec seven o’clock kickoff in death valley. It’s amazing. 

Rick: Yeah. It’s, it’s really important. And a lot of countries, unfortunately, ours is not one of them. 

Tyler: Yeah, no, but we do carry our own weight. Uh, you know, it seems every Olympics, the United States right there in the medal count and this year is no exception.

Right. Yeah, we’ve got no shortage of Mississippi athletes or folks with Mississippi ties that are contributing that yet. Again, 

Rick: the crooked letter stayed as well-represented at the Olympics. Brittany res sure. Showed us that last night. Yeah, 

Tyler: that was a lot of fun watching her and we’ll get to Brittany. I want to talk about her a lot.

Cause what she’s done is pretty amazing. Um, look really quickly. I’m going to run down the list of them. This would be athletes. We’ve got three natives. I think Corey McGee from past Christianne competing in the women’s 1500 meter. She finished eighth and heat one on Sunday. She said to run again. We’re recording this on Tuesday.

She’s supposed to run on Wednesday. Show me me Q and from Abu and the high jump. He finished four. Group over the weekend and then finished 12th in the final and Sunday, Sam Kendrick’s and the pole vault. Everybody knows. Uh, if you haven’t heard the story of this point, tested positive for COVID one out of five times, uh, and was disqualified hate to see that, um, Ole miss is Allie Weiss and women’s rifle.

She finished 14th among the women’s six and the mixed team. All Mrs. Raphael, uh, Sousa, God, these names are gonna kill me. She, uh, Was playing on the women’s soccer team for Brazil. She goes to Ole miss. They lost the Canada in the final on Friday, Brittany Reese, as we mentioned, won silver last night, her second silver after winning gold in her first Olympics, uh, I guess that would have been 2012.

Rick: Well, 2012, she won gold, uh, 2016. She won silver 

Tyler: and then won silver again 

Rick: Tuesday. Now the amazing thing about it and you and I have talked about it. If she. Two more inches total in the last two Olympics, she would have won three gold medals. 

Tyler: Yeah, it’s ridiculous. It seems like we get together every four years to see if somebody can best the world record by an inch.

It’s pretty amazing. Almost Mrs. Raven Saunders, when the Goldens are in the silver metal in the shot put over the weekend and she famously made her arms into an X over head on the metal stand and, and, and, you know, to raise awareness. For discrimination in the United States. Uh, and I’m sure everybody’s got opinions on that, but, uh, very quickly, six Mississippi state bulldogs.

Marco ran the 800 meter for Canada. Uh, Mississippi state’s Brandon McBride also ran for Canada and 800. Uh, he finished sixth, Saturday, but did not qualify for the final Erik of bow guard and the heptathlon she’s set to run Tuesday. Marta Penn free tests from Mississippi state is set to run the 1500 meter for Portugal.

She’s in semifinal two on Wednesday Anderson Peters in the javelin competing for Grenada set to throw Tuesday and then to JSU, uh, ties JSU alum, uh, NASO Joe bode. You’re doing great. Yeah, I know I’m working on it, man. Uh, he rented the 200 meter, uh, on behalf of South Africa. Finished third in his heat on Monday is set to run again today and JSU freshmen, Adele Cole thrust in the four by 100 meter relay for Trinidad and Tobago has not completed yet.

You know, it’s not out of the. Uncommon for us to have, you know, as many as 14, 15 athletes with Mississippi dies. 

Rick: No. Oh, you know, uh, I remember him and we’ll talk about this later. The, in 1996, when I covered the summer Olympics in Atlanta, there were Mississippians everywhere. I mean, everywhere you turn, there was a Mississippi story.

So, uh, you know, w w we can run fast and we can jump high and we can, uh, jump far and, uh, As a rule when Mississippi, we have great athletes. 

Tyler: Right? Well, I want to talk about two in particular to start with, and obviously we want to talk about Brittany Reese. Uh, what an accomplishment, like we said, she’s now having a gold medal and two silver medals has participated in three Olympics, uh, and could have won a second gold medal.

Like you said, if she had just jumped an inch further, you wrote a great piece in Mississippi today this week about Mississippi. History with the long jump and how that event has. We’ve really just shined in that event. Can you kind of share with our listeners a little bit about that? 

Rick: Yeah, I guess the theme of that column is they could call us the long jumping state because we have such a great history of, uh, world-class long jumpers.

Let me get to this right away. The most accomplished of all of them is Brittany Reese. I mean a 13 time world champion four time Olympian, three Olympic metals, a former NCAA champion at, uh, Ole miss from Gulf port where she was both a. Track and basketball star and then went to Gulf coast community college and was recruited to Ole miss by Joe Walker.

Uh, but about the history, uh, we probably should start with Willie B. White, who was from money, Mississippi and competed in five Olympiads, including when she was 16 years old. Out of money, Mississippi. She competed, uh, in Brisbane, Australia and won the silver medal at age 16. Of course this was after she had one track mates by herself at age 10 high school track meets by herself at age 10 when she wasn’t picking cotton.

With her, uh, sharecropping grandparents, just an amazing, uh, story. Will it be white? Uh, there’s a part of us 49. Uh, now that, that is named after Willie B wine as well. It should be. And at the same time she was, uh, competing in the women’s events in the sixties. Uh, the great Ralph Boston from Laurel Mississippi was competing.

In the men’s and like Brittany Reese, he won three medals in three consecutive Olympics. He won a gold, a silver and a bronze metal, Ralph Boston. Uh, one of the really fine gentlemen. In Mississippi sports history, just a wonderful human being and, uh, and obviously an incredible athlete. And then AF after him came Larry Marks, uh, who jumped at Mississippi college for the same Joe Walker who coached Brittany Rousse at Ole miss.

Uh, and Larry Marks competed in three straight Olympiads. Uh, And had a lot of hard luck, but in his third one, he finally, um, you know, won a bronze medal, but we’ve had a tremendous long jumpers through the years in Mississippi. And, uh, to say that Brittany ruses, the most accomplished of any album is really saying something.

Yeah, the 

Tyler: longevity of it is what gets me. I mean, just, I mean, anybody who’s done anything. You know, physical for any amount of time, and I’m not talking about just sports. I mean like dieting, I mean, you, it’s one thing to get to your goal and get to your peak and get to your, you know, reach what you want.

Uh, but to stay that way for. You know, 12 years, uh, to stay at the peak, to be at the peak of your sport for 12 years is something you just don’t see very often in, across any 

Rick: sport. Yeah. With Brittany Rouge, just watching her last night. She’s 34 years old when she’s competing against 18 and 20 year olds and beat all, but one and the one she lost to the German who wow.

What a last jumped out was so dramatic. She lost by an inch. You know, funny story about Brittany when she was, uh, in junior college and she played basketball at Mississippi Gulf coast as well. She was trying to decide what to do with their career. Really. She wanted to play basketball or do track and field.

And her mother said, well, here’s the deal, Brittany, and track and field, you are controlling your own destiny and basketball. You’re dependent on for other people, you know, On the floor. She said, why don’t you do the one where you control your own destiny? And that’s. What Brittany decided to do and, and, uh, it’s turning out pretty well for, 

Tyler: yeah.

And she’s got such a great personal story too. She’s somewhat of a pillar of our community down there on the coast has reinvested in track in Mississippi and helped grow in the sport. It’s you know, just, just fantastic. 

Rick: She also was adopted. A son, she’s a single parent. She adopted a son who is a long jumper, 14 years old.

I’m stunned. Yeah. I think you’ll see her be a 

Tyler: coach. Right. Uh, real quick. We want to talk about what happened to, uh, Sam Kendrick’s. Uh, can you, uh, man, you know, I hate to see it. I St I saw, you know, Roger Wicker’s, uh, rant on it. The house floor and Washington Senate floor, Senate floor. That’s right. You know, while I share his frustration, it’s just, it seems like, you know, we put off this, they delayed the Olympics last year, so that we wouldn’t have people getting disqualified for COVID an abbreviated opening ceremony, uh, you know, And fans in the stands and we’re now we’re holding the Olympics.

We have people getting disqualified because of COVID no fans in the stands. And I’m guessing that was an abbreviated opening ceremony that we got from Tokyo. And you hate to see that, but I guess that’s the world we’re living in. Yeah. 

Rick: Well, that’s the one thing missing from these Olympics? Uh, when I compare the two, when I was in Atlanta in 96, the crowds were just so into it.

Including, you know, the opening ceremony when Muhammad Ali lit the flame, it was one of the most, uh, amazing moments I’ve ever seen in sports. And, uh, you know, like 80,000 people coming to their feet to watch him coming around the stretch for the mile. You miss that you miss the cry, the crowds are. So, I mean, what we’ve learned during this entire pandemic we’re sports are concerned.

It’s just how important crowds are. You know, fans are heart and how they make such a difference in, in just the overall experience of sport. And, uh, it’s a shame, but getting back to Sam Kendrick’s, you know, you work your whole life. I mean, starting as a 13 year old, uh, competing for his daddy in junior high, uh, with a cutoff pole vault, and you worked your whole life hours a day to prepare for this.

And you’re one of the favorites. He was one of the two favorites in the pole vault. Certainly. I mean, if, unless something catastrophic had happened would have won a medal, right. And then to get disqualified because. Positive tests for COVID, it’s a shame, but at the same time, it’s like it was in the college rural series.

Um, with North Carolina state, everybody was playing by the same rules. Everybody knew what the rules we’re coming in. It’s one of the, one of the really heartbreaking things. About what we’ve endured the last 18 months or more? Yeah. 

Tyler: Well, it’s hard. It all runs the other, I don’t know how many months it’s been.

I used to count it in months, then it was just the past year. Now it’s just since this started. 

Rick: Right. And if everybody doesn’t get the jab and if everybody, uh, doesn’t wear a mask in public, I mean, I hate to get on the soap box, but we’re going to go through another football season where there’s nobody in this, you know, Limited crowds and stuff 

Tyler: like that.

Yeah. It’s a subject for a whole nother podcast, but I’ve, haven’t been talking to coaches who are extremely worried about it. Let’s talk about somebody who did not get disqualified because of COVID. And that’s a Raven Saunders. As I mentioned earlier, she won silver in the shot put and during the celebration or during the metal ceremony, X with her arms over her head.

Uh, so a lot of reaction on Twitter about it, but I loved her quote, you know, it was just a message to young people that you can do you, and you can accept yourself and don’t worry about what others think or say about you. You know, as an LGBT athlete, a black woman in the south. I mean, you know, when she speaks and says stuff like that, I mean, I, for one I’m going to listen.

Rick: Well, yeah. You know, let the people who criticize her work all their life and went on an Olympic medal and. And not be themselves. Um, and you know, that’s, I go back to all the way to the 64 Olympics in Mexico city when John Carlos and Tommy Lee Smith did the black power salute, you know, at the time they were vilified by their own country and looking back on it all these years later, what they did was courageous and they’re remembered in a totally different way than they were thought of.

In the present tense. And, uh, you know, I think we might see that same thing happened with Ray, 

Tyler: Raven Saunders, those two famously stripped of their models. They’ve Raven. They asked him about my favorite quote was Raven. They asked her about them potentially stripping her Mo away. And she was basically I’m paraphrasing here, but so let them try to get it from me.

Um, so she’s going to, uh, she’s going to get out of Tokyo as quickly as she can with her metal without swimming, because she can’t, which was fantastic. But, you know, watching the Olympics, it did take you me back to 96 and those Atlanta games. And I know those are the only ones that you’ve ever covered, but you’ve shared so many stories with me over the past couple of days about going to those events and covering it.

I remember as a 10 year old going, and you taking me to the baseball game where I think we played Australia. Uh, at the old Olympic stadium, just, did you kind of share some of your favorite memories from, from those 

Rick: games? Well, the 96 games will be remembered as. The games where women took the forefront in the Olympics, uh, where, you know, we had the, that was the first year of the dream team, uh, who just won every game by like 30 or 40 points.

But the real dream team turned out to be the U S women’s team. Uh, Which was led by a Mississippian, uh, Ruthie Bolton, uh, from McLean who was the point guard and engineered, uh, an incredible run through the competition. And, and we watched, uh, the U S women win the gold medal and the U S women were, uh, at the forefront in those games, period.

Um, I got to correct you on one thing though, that, that, that baseball was played at the AU Atlanta Fulton county state. That’s right. That’s right. The Olympic stadium, which is now which turned in, was later converted into Turner field by another Mississippian architect, Janet Marie Smith, who we’ve had on, on this show.

Yeah. But those were the last events. Uh, at, uh, Atlanta Fulton county stadium. 

Tyler: Yeah. And the other thing that I remember about those games is of course, the, the bomb, as I recall, and your recollection may be better because again, I was 10, but I don’t remember a mom. Andy and I, my younger sister, Amy and I over to Atlanta, uh, that night, it was the night the bomb went off and we had just gotten into town and we were in downtown Atlanta, uh, when the bomb went off.

And I just remember seeing blue lights everywhere and be in, you know, Turned off of a main road by a police officer and stuff. What do you, what was your recollection of that 

Rick: recollection is I had finally finished work after a long day of covering stuff and I was back getting ready for y’all to come into town.

And I’m kind of listening to the Olympics on TV while, while I was, uh, doing some chores and. Heard the news. So, um, you know, I immediately had to go back to work and, um, I went back down to Centennial park where the thing had happened. Of course you couldn’t get in, you couldn’t get anywhere close to it.

But I spent the whole day, as you’ll recall, we had had a whole, you may not recall, but we had a whole day of activities plan and then I had to work on the whole bomb thing, uh, the next day. Yeah, it was, uh, you know, the Olympics have had a lot of. Controversially through the years, uh, uh, 64 in Mexico, 72 in Munich, uh, which was the worst of all.

And then 96, the other thing that marked the 96 games is that, uh, they had a transportation breakdown in Atlanta where the Marta, well, the media buses, for whatever reason, they kept going. To wrong places. And, um, so finally you remember the old white GMC pickup truck I had, I was carrying media people from all over the world, in my bed of my pickup truck.

Cause I could get there faster than the Marta buses. 

Tyler: Wow. That’s wild. And that’s one thing I really, you know, obviously the tragedies aside and there have been some, but the underlying storyline. Around about what’s going on around the world. When the, I mean, it’s almost unavoidable. Uh, and there’s been a couple this year.

I saw one Belarusian athlete, uh, refuse to go back home, um, because she felt she was going to be punished or arrested. Uh, and I think she’s gotten, uh, I can’t remember which country it was that offered her asylum. Uh, but it seems like there’s always stories like that. They come out of the games that make it seem like.

I mean, it is at its core. It’s about the athletes and the games they play and to see who’s the best in the world, but there’s also this, it just kind of raises awareness for what’s going on around the world with these other countries. And that’s always been one of my favorite things about 

Rick: the game sports and not just the Olympics, but sports itself is a microcosm of our society.

It’s it? Uh, the same things that affect our society affects sports and, and, and. You know, there’s a, there’s more of an intense. Glare, so to speak on the Olympics, there’s more people watching. And so it shows up more during the Olympics, but you know, it’s like, COVID, it affects our everyday life. It affects the games.

Tyler: Do you have any favorite, uh, Olympic memories? I mean, Obviously you got some from the 96 games, but I mean, even watching from home, I mean, anything that you remember, 

Rick: oh man. You know, I think my favorite Olympic memory will be the one that I, uh, witnessed in person when, uh, Ruthie Bolton Bolton and her teammates, uh, won the gold because they weren’t expected to, they were not the favorites and she just was not gonna be denied.

That was really, really terrific 

Tyler: favorites. I think Mike, maybe Michael Johnson that year, uh, when he dominated the sprints, I mean, that was so cool to think that the fastest man in the world was from America. Uh, it was kind of, you know, as a 10 year old, um, I was beating my chest about that and then pick your Olympics with Michael Phelps.

I mean, it was just to be able to watch, I mean, it’s like watching Jordan or, you know, LeBron or something, you know, it’s like watching. Ali, you know what I mean? Just the, just unbelievable what he was able to do, you know, in the pool. And for me, just, you know, it gives you that sense of national pride to know that, you know, Aquaman’s in American.

Rick: What about golf in the Olympics? 

Tyler: Yeah, man, we I’ve been watching it. I like, of course, you know, it’s going to be my favorite events, my favorite thing to watch and play and, uh, but yeah. It felt like a PGA tour event in a way, but it did feel like they had that extra motivation to be playing for their country.

And I do like to see people wearing their colors and stuff, you know? Uh, but other than that, pretty much just the golf tournament in Tokyo, you know? Well, that’s the 

Rick: feel I got, uh, is it that it’s, you know, And the rest of the Olympics, most of the athletes are staying in the village and there, but the golfers here, we’ve got all these millionaires with rare exceptions.

They don’t stay in the village and there, uh, the competition was fun and gal, it was dramatic. Demands was dramatic and I’m going to watch the women 

Tyler: as well. Yeah, I’m going to watch it as well. I think maybe we were talking about this going forward. It may make more sense to do that, like a college golf tournament and do it as teams and have like an aggregate score and, you know, cause team USA would be pretty, you know, salty, um, pretty much, pretty 

Rick: much unbeatable work.

So maybe 

Tyler: Britain, uh, well, Spain, Spain. That’s right. Those would be, I mean, but, but I guess. You know, and, and like we were talking, we were talking about this last night, you said there would be some countries that would really struggle to feel the team, but I think that would make it just as fun because let’s say you did have a smaller country.

Uh, well, you know, their fourth or fifth guy may be somebody who’s not on the tour. We never heard of, but if he plays well and the other, you know, the other guys can carry him, they could compete. And it could 

Rick: also be like the gymnastics where you have the team now. And you also have the individual that’s right.

Tyler: Makes more sense 

Rick: to me. Yeah. And it’d be more fun to watch. It would have all that Ryder cup drama that, that kind of was missing. I thought. 

Tyler: Right. Because if you have two guys from the same country there. I mean, they’re competing against each other still, which is kind of again, I mean, you know, I mean, I know you have that in other sports, you know, you have two finalists from the same country, they’re technically competing against each other, but I would love to see a team competition, but you know, Just as watching it, uh, you know, I wish there was a lot of things different.

I wish that the, you know, I wish we sent our best baseball players. Um, we send, we’d send college and retired guys and, you know, it’s all we lost to Japan the other night, which is a little frustrating because you know, our best players, aren’t there basketball the same way. Uh, you know, if I was building my new dream team, I think I’d start with a D and LeBron inside and neither one of them, you know, participated.

So. But other than that, I mean, I just, you’re so proud of the American Olympians and what they’ve accomplished. And I always am. It doesn’t matter if it’s winter games, summer games just enjoy watching them and enjoy pulling fruit for the U S me too. 

Rick: And I’m always pulling hardest for the, um, For the 

Tyler: Mississippians.

Yeah. It’s really cool to have, you know, you tune in the whole, world’s watching and you’ve got somebody who’s from, you know, an hour from your front door. It’s it’s, it’s pretty neat. That’s right. Well, that’s it. That’s our show for this week. Thanks for tuning in to the cricket letter sports podcast. Again, I’m Tyler Cleveland with SB live and he’s Rick Cleveland, Mississippi today.

Be sure to keep up with all the latest in what’s going on in Mississippi sports, you can follow us both on Twitter. I’m at Tyler Cleveland. He’s at Rick Cleveland. Produce every week by blue sky podcasting and Jackson, they always got us do a great job. And I appreciate you guys for tuning in. Have a great one. .

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.

Tyler Cleveland

Tyler Cleveland is a senior reporter for Scorebook Live and the co-host of Mississippi Today's Crooked Letter Sports Podcast.